Nesting Cacus Wrens at Embudo Canyon

“I’m glad I wore the long-sleeves you recommended,” one of the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders stated with a shiver. A cold front had arrived during the night and there was a cool, stiff breeze blowing in Embudo Canyon. Who would have thought – in July – that we would crave long sleeves for the weather, rather than for the insects?
“Well, at least we shouldn’t be bothered by the no-see-ums that normally emerge around 9:00 in the morning during the warm weather,” I laughed.

As trip leader for the day, I led the fourteen birders north on Trail #401 and then west on an unmarked trail. We were in search of Cactus Wrens which I had heard and seen the prior day when I was scouting. The noise of the wind was making it difficult to hear much.

While scanning the hills for the quail I could hear calling, I noticed two Rock Wrens hop out of a crevice onto the top of a boulder where they did their characteristic bobbing up and down – and pointed them out to the group.

Donna yelled from the back of the line and pointed north towards a clump of cholla cactus. Then I heard the distinctive call of the Cactus Wren. The first bird that popped into view was a Curve-billed Thrasher, and then a little ways to the right I saw a Cactus Wren.

Cactus Wren

“It has a nest in the right-most cholla,” I announced. “And, OMG it’s taking food into the nest.” It disappeared in the nest. A second Cactus Wren flew in, and as soon as the first one popped out, it also disappeared into the tightly woven pouch that was tucked deep between the thorny stems.

A few of the group also were lucky to have a Scott’s Oriole in the same binocular view as the wren and thrasher.

I wondered about the proximity of Curve-billed Thrashers and Cactus Wrens and about the fact that the wrens were feeding young at this time of year – when I had seen them beginning to nest earlier in the spring. When I got home, I read more about these two species in my Birder’s Handbook and discovered that both species have two broods a year, with the thrashers occasionally having a 3rd brood. Both species remain paired throughout the year. Surprisingly, I learned that Curve-billed Thrashers routinely destroy the nests of Cactus Wren if they are built within the thrasher’s territory, which is based on the adequacy of food supply. While both species prefer insects, they also eat fruit and invertebrates. All three are plentiful in Embudo Canyon. A type of sumac, which Donna said is referred to as ‘lemonade plant’ was loaded with berries.

There was no need to continue west, so we back-tracked until we found a trail heading north towards the picnic shelter. Just past the shelter, we encountered another Cactus Wren. It was scolding us and trying to distract us from its nest.

“Let’s move on quickly,” I suggested.

Scaled Quail

We hadn’t gone far when a couple of Scaled Quail scurried out from the underbrush and across an opening to the shelter of other plants further from the trail. I had been hearing them call and was glad the group could see some. The males are not calling from the top of a look-out like they were earlier in the season.

We headed towards the mouth of a small canyon. A Black-headed Grosbeak flew into a small tree just ahead of us, followed by a juvenile.

A few Barn Swallows arrived and started swooping through the area. As we headed back towards the parking lot, Donna also spotted a Cliff Swallow.

A little further on, we heard a Scaled Quail again and then it emerged from the top of an Apache Plume, and sat there calling – giving everyone good looks.

Black-throated Sparrow

The wind had settled down and we began to see and hear Black-throated Sparrows.
“Their song sounds like the tinkling of a child’s toy piano at the end,” I pointed out. “That helps you to identify it.”

Some of the group left us at the parking lot and the rest headed east on Trail #193. Just before we reached the water tank, we headed on an unmarked trail that led along the base of the hills. I was hoping we would have a chance to see the Black-chinned Sparrow I had heard calling in this area the previous day. We heard it call once, but never did see it. Near the bottom of the spillway, we watched a Say’s Phoebe and then headed back to the main trail.

We stopped to watch two Cassin’s Kingbirds sitting on the top of the fence around the water tank.

At the top of the hills, there was a flock of Bushtits working the Scrub Oak. A Northern Mockingbird flew in nearby.

We stopped just before reaching the end of the Wilderness Area, as the wind had started picking up again.

Back at the parking lot, we went over the list and were delighted that 20 species had been seen.


2 thoughts on “Nesting Cacus Wrens at Embudo Canyon

  1. I was out of town but your write-up and photos were enough to make up for the missed opportunity. That’s wonderful that you saw the Cactus Wren feeding young.

  2. First time I’ve checked the blog in a long time. Makes me miss you all very much. We’ll be back but probably not until next spring.

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