Interesting Saguaro Cactus Facts

One of Arizona’s most majestic, lovable desert cactus plants is the Saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea. Being aware of the saguaro’s history and incredible internal design, it is an honor to walk close to the Giant Saguaro that is over 150 years old and standing tall.

Sonoran Desert cactus tall
Giant Saguaro Cactus of Arizona

These desert cacti are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age.

Saguaro Cactus can not tolerate freezing temperatures in the winter and this is what limits their range.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro FACTS:  Saguaros are a very slow growing cactus.  A 10 year old plant might only be 2 inches tall.

How tall can a Saguaro Cactus grow?  It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall.

Arizona Saguaro Giant Cactus
Saguaro Cactus on Mica Mountain
60 foot Saguaro Cactus plant
A Tall Saguaro Cactus

Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park.

Mica Mountain Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cactus roots are only 4-6 inches deep and travel out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep tap root that extends down into the ground.

A Saguaro Cactus can gather enough water through its remarkable root system, during a significant rain, to last a year!

holes in big cactus
Holes in Saguaro Cactus for birds nest

Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus?  The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.

Birds nesting in the Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.

red fruit of cactus
Saguaro Cactus Flowers bloom, then turn to fruit

When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.

white flower on cactus arizona
Saguaro cactus Bloom – Flower

A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.  Only a few bloom each night awaiting to be pollinated and close by late morning.

pollinated cactus flower to fruit
red fruit on Saguaro Cactus
dead saguaro cactus ribs
A living and dead Saguaro Cactus.

Because the major part of a desert saguaro cactus is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.

After the saguaro dies its wood ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.  The holes that birds nested in are called saguaro boots.

holes in cactus in Arizona
Saguaro Boot used by Native American

Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.

200 year old tall saguaro cactus
Saguaro Cactus next to a biker to compare the size

Saguaro branches normally begin to appear when the cactus reaches 50 to 70 years of age.

The average life span of a saguaro is approximately 175 years of age.  Experts have estimated that a Saguaro Cactus with more than 5 arms can be 200 years old.

nurse tree for saguaro cactus
Yellow Palo Verde Tree is a nurse tree

Young saguaro cacti can be very hard to find because they grow under the protection of a “nurse tree”.  The nurse tree releases nitrogen in the soil which the Saguaros and other desert cacti use to grow healthy and strong.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd shapes or forms. The growing tip of the cactus occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.

rare arizona cactus
Cristate Saguaro Cactus

These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare.  Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.

Fan like shaped cactus rare
Crested, Cristate, Fan-like Saguaro Cactus from AZ
crested cristate cactus in Tucson Phoenix
rare Saguaro in Tucson

Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of  The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona. During building or construction, precautions must be taken to move every saguaro that may be affected.

Curve-billed Thrasher – AZ desert birds with personality!

With their long tails, melodious songs and zesty personalities, the Curve-billed Thrasher is one of my favorite Arizona birds.

bird that bounces around and pounds the ground
Curve Billed Thrasher is a confident desert bird

Each bird possesses its own charisma.  And sing…?  Oh yes this bird can sing!

The Curve-billed Thrasher, Toxostoma curvirostre,  is a common bird species of the Sonoran Desert.

Order: Passeriformes
Family: Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

tucson bird digs the ground
curve billed thrasher bird arizona, red eyes

These desert birds are grayish, brown with a long tail and faint spots on the chest.  An adult Curve-billed Thrasher has vivid orange or red-orange eyes.  Juvenile birds have lighter yellow eyes.

gray brown bird with long beak orange eyes
Curve billed Thrasher’s long tail, birds with red eyes

Have you seen a Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)?  Then you’ve already witnessed their daring personality and fondness for charging into groups of birds provoking chaos.

Desert birds of the Southwest
Curve-Billed Thrasher orange red eyes bird

This Southwest bird is a ground lover.  Curve-billed Thrashers fly in abrupt jerky fashion from bush to bush.  They especially like areas with thorny mesquite trees or cholla cacti.

a bird that pounds the dirt with its beak
Thrasher birds flick the rocks looking for insects

This bird probes the dirt and leaf litter with its long, black, down curved beak.  While digging holes in the soil, the Curve-billed Thrasher flicks aside debris in search of seeds and insects.

Arizona birds
A thrasher bird foraging on the ground for food

In worker fashion, Curve-billed Thrashers use their robust legs and feet to shuffle through the plant litter beneath a cactus or shrub.

arizona desert birds
Curve-billed Thrasher’s long tail

In the U.S., this bird occurs most commonly in the southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico and western TexasMost of the country of Mexico is blessed to enjoy the sights and songs of the Curve-billed Thrasher.

Bird with yellow eyes
red eyes of the curve billed thrasher bird
Curve billed Thrasher
two adult Curve billed Thrasher birds in the AZ desert

This male and female thrasher look very much alike.  Immature birds are similar to the adults but with shorter, straighter bills and yellow instead of orange-red eyes.

It is the custom of this long-lasting pair of birds to mate in the winter after a charming courtship filled with song.

Arizona Sonoran Desert birds
adult Curve-billed Thrasher with its young

Beginning early spring the two birds cooperate in building a nest;  creating a deep bowl-shaped structure lined with long, thorny twigs.

Curve-billed Thrashers prefer the lower shaded branches of the cholla cacti;  while the Cactus Wren bird will build a ball-shaped nest on a higher cholla cactus branch.

Breeding usually takes place from May to mid-July.  The female Curve-bill Thrasher lays her spotted bluish-green eggs early in the morning on successive days, usually producing a total of 3-5.

blue green eggs with spots by cactus
bluish-green eggs in the nest of the Curve-billed Thrasher

The eggs hatch in about fourteen days.  The young birds will leave the nest, approximately, six weeks after the female produces her first clutch.

Arizona state bird - cactus wren
this Cactus Wren may nest in a Cholla Cactus near a Curve-billed Thrasher’s nest

For the next several weeks, Curve-billed Thrasher parents nurture the fledglings, still answering their cries for food but teaching them foraging to encourage their independence.

a bird that bounces around the yard
Curved billed Thrasher is a bird with personality

Unfortunately, this bird has lost a considerable part of its south Texas brushland habitat. And the expanding cities of Tucson and Phoenix are causing a rapid loss of habitat in Arizona.

Curve Billed Thrasher, Toxostoma curvirostre
Birds of Arizona, TX and Mexico

Although there has been little conservation work directly focused on the Curve-billed Thrasher; much work has been directed at protecting habitats in some areas where the species occurs.

Information on where Curve-billed Thrashers occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world’s first comprehensive online bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html