High Time for Saguaro

Curve-billed Thrasher

In springtime desert birds like Cactus Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers perch on the domed tops of forty foot Saguaros, and their calls ring like bells in the desert air. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers cling to Saguaros’ spiny ridges, peering into cavity nests, drumming territorial calls on the cacti’s green skin, and sending messages with their piercing cries. 

Gila Woodpecker peeks out of cavity nest
Gilded Flicker inspects cavity

Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, Flycatchers, Screech Owls and more nest in Saguaro cavities throughout spring and summer. Some, such as the Ash-throated Flycatcher, build cozy nests inside the “boot” of the cavity, the hollow cocoon formed by resinous secretions after a woodpecker excavates. Others simply lay their eggs in the bottom of the boot.

In the first week of April, White-winged Doves show up from Mexico. With their arrival, the stately Saguaros erupt, sprouting green caps of tubular buds. Soon after, the blossoms open, spreading thick waxy petals to the night air, summoning pollinators like moths and bats.  Come morning bees and birds feed avidly on the nectar, for by afternoon the tropical looking blossoms will be closed tight again, holding in precious moisture. 

White-winged Doves migrate to the Sonoran Desert to feed on Saguaro nectar and its fruits. They raise their young on the fruits. Saguaros benefit from their company as doves spread seeds when they carry juicy fruit bits to their nests in nearby trees. Saguaro seedlings get a start in the shade the branches of these desert “nurse” trees provide. 

When the last of the fruits have been eaten, when the last summer nesters have fledged their young, when the air shimmers with heat, every animal finds shade or retreats to underground burrows. Saguaros stand stoic in the silence and wait for summer rains, their shallow roots poised to absorb even the most meager shower, while their seeds nestle in the soil nearby, anticipating moisture for germination. 

Red sunrise in August


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