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Cactus Wrens on the Comeback Trail

PictureA cactus wren perched on a cholla cactus.

Birds make nests in all kinds of places out of all types of materials. But some birds, like the coastal cactus wren, are picky.

The Southern California native cactus wren prefers to construct their nests in old-growth prickly pear cactus and cholla cactus—both of which provide spiky protection from predators.
However, recent fires and past land uses including cattle ranching have eliminated much of the mature cactus the birds rely on to nest, which has in turn threatened the local cactus wren population.
On the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, groups including the non-profit Natural Communities Coalition, the city of Irvine and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy have been working together since 2013 to expand the wren’s habitat, by connecting isolated patches of prickly pear cactus with each other to over time create a larger, contiguous habitat for the coastal cactus wren. One such project includes the Mule Deer Restoration site, located in the Shady Canyon area of the City of Irvine’s Open Space Preserve. So far, 4,500 prickly pear cactus pads and more than 20 larger, mature cactuses have been planted across more than 2 acres of habitat. Now it looks like those efforts are starting to pay off, as the first signs of cactus wren nests are showing up.

“We started noticing the nesting materials in the beginning of August, and we’ve seen two wrens in the area, which we hope are an established pair,” said Irvine Ranch Conservancy Resource Management Coordinator Isaac Ostmann.  “There are sites nearby that have historically had wrens, and this site is part of the linkage project to connect pairs that are too far from each other to meet—since the birds are not strong fliers. That’s the whole point of this project, to create islands of habitat where they could connect, so these nests are a good sign.”
To get involved in habitat restoration efforts on the Landmarks, visit