One of the reasons that I moved back to Las Cruces from Tucson was spring birdsong. Tucson was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. I spent hours staring out my patio door watching three species of dove, house finches, and hummingbirds, among others coming to the feeders I had installed. I learned an immense amount about the differences in courting and aggressive behavior between the three doves that came to my feeder. They all, Inca dove, mourning dove, and white-wing dove, used a very similar wing-flashing behavior to warn off others of their species and dove of the other species. The differences were in timing, extent, and frequency of the wing flashes. Fascinating, but I want to get back to why I moved back to Las Cruces.
Cactus wrens – yes, cactus wrens, were a big part of why I moved back to Cruces. Yep, there were cactus wrens in Tucson, but my experience of them was completely different than in Las Cruces. I suspect that part of that difference had to do with the vegetation around where I lived in Cruces vs where I lived in Tucson. In Las Cruces, my house had cholla cactus planted and growing naturally all around the house. Hmmm – I wonder if that had something to do with the street name? In Tucson, there were cacti in the neighborhood, but not right next to the house.
Cactus wrens, as their name implies, prefer to nest in cactus, particularly cholla cactus. The erect and branching stems provide great places to build nests and the sharp thorns and rather dense stems deter would-be predators. My house had a cholla growing just outside of the front porch. It was on the north side of the house, so it received a lot more shade than cactus growing out in the open – it was sheltered and relatively cooler during the heat of summer. OK – let me mention another thing about cactus wrens – they use their nests for sleeping shelter year-round. There was a cactus wren nest in that cholla nearly every year.
Spring springs early in Las Cruces and one of the first pieces of evidence of that is birdsong. Male birds setting up their territories in preparation for the breeding season and rearing of young like to get up in high places and sing their song – letting other birds know who lived where. One of the first birds to start singing in the spring around my house was the cactus wren. Every morning, starting in March, the guy that owned the front of the house and the cholla next to the porch would sit in the top of the tree in front of the house or the garage roof and announce his ownership.
That distinctive song of spring is embedded in my memory. Every morning as I headed out for work, I would be regaled by that song. That cactus wren singing in honor of a new year meant there would be pleasant days ahead. That’s a big part of why I moved back to Las Cruces.