Much like that loose-cannon, feisty cousin that every family seems to have, the Cactus Wren does not share its personality traits with its fellow wrens. These are not shy little brown birds that retreat under branches and leaves, but bold warriors of the desert.

Desert survival

Cactus Wrens live life loudly in the scrub lands and foothills of the Southwest. They’ll posture and pose, calling and scolding invaders of their closely watched territories, unafraid and ready to mob snakes, hawks and even people who dare to enter. They'll forage for insects, seeds and cactus fruit out in the open. Even if they find standing water, they typically don’t get a drink, because all their water needs are served by eating cactus fruit.

The defensive nest strategy

The nesting habits of the Cactus Wren lend us insight about their harsh, competitive environment. Instead of the usual cup-shaped nest, these nests are football shaped with a small opening at one end that leads to a passage to a nesting chamber, and they’re built up in the cactus plants — they don’t seem to mind the thorns. While the female incubates the eggs, males will sometimes build one or several decoy nests to fool predators.

After the nestlings grow up, unlike many other birds, the Cactus Wren will keep using the nest to sleep at night.

Cactus Wrens in your yard

Cactus Wrens will nest and feed in backyards, especially if the yard is xeriscaped and includes cactus and other drought-resistant regional plants. If you spot their bold spots and stripes in your neighborhood, leave out some Lyric Fine Tunes Wild Bird Mix to catch their eye.

Cactus Wrens build football-shaped nests in cactus plants. iStock/Thinkstock