The state bird of Arizona is the cactus wren, which is scientifically known as Heleodytes brunneicapillus couesi. The cactus wren was chosen as the state bird by the Arizona State Legislature in 1931, and remained the state's only wildlife symbol until 1986, when four more state wildlife symbols were chosen. The cactus wren is believed to be the biggest wren species in North America, with a maximum length of 7 to 9 inches (18 to 22 centimeters) and a maximum weight of 1.1 to 1.7 ounces (32 to 47 grams). These birds are generally mottled brown and their backs are typically brown with white bars while their breasts are typically white with dark brown bars or spots. They also usually have a telltale white stripe above each eye.
Males and females of the cactus wren species generally mate for life. They typically occupy the same territory all year round, and usually work together to defend it. The state bird of Arizona is known for being particularly aggressive in defense of its nest. When predators venture near the nest, mated pairs of cactus wrens will typically work together, attacking the intruder until it flees. The cactus wren has also been known to peck and smash the eggs of other bird species nesting within its territory.
The cactus wren typically prefers to make its home in cacti, such as the yucca, saguaro, or mesquite. The spines of cacti may offer the nests an additional degree of protection from predators. The state bird of Arizona can generally be found throughout the deserts of the American Southwest, and is also common in Mexico.
These birds feed largely on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, ants, and wasps. They have been known to feed on fruits and seeds, and, rarely amphibians and reptiles. They are believed capable of sustaining themselves without access to drinking water. The cactus wren derives much of its moisture from its food alone, and will often refuse to drink water when it finds it. Their eggs are generally pink in color, with russet-colored speckles.
The cactus wren has been the state bird of Arizona since 1931, but was, until 1986, the only state symbol of Arizona. In 1985, the Arizona Game and Fish Department sponsored an election among the state's students. The children chose four additional wildlife species as state symbols for Arizona, and these state symbols were officially adopted the following year. The state bird of Arizona was therefore joined by a state mammal, the Arizona ringtail; a state reptile, the ridgenose rattlesnake; a state amphibian, the Arizona tree frog; and a state fish, the Arizona trout.