The Life of an Arizona Hedgehog

Hedgehog cacti grow from seeds found within their fruit and spread by the birds and desert animals that eat them. A clump of columnar stems four to twelve inches tall makes up a single cactus. A cactus might have sixty stems in a clump. There are many varieties of Hedgehog cacti.

At low altitudes in the Sonoran desert, the most common Hedgehog is the Saint’s Cactus, or Strawberry Cactus, Engelmann’s Hedgehog, a member of the Cactaceae, Echinocereus engelmannii.

Hedgehog closeup New Hedgehog buds Very long Hedgehog spinesMarch is a good month to look for Hedgehogs in the desert, as they begin blooming at this time of year. The Engelmann’s Hedgehog produces purple to magenta blooms that are two to three and a half inches wide. This cactus blooms during the daytime and closes at night. The red fruit will mature in late Spring or early Summer.

Hedgehog with early buds 1Hedgehog with tall stems Strawberry Hedgehog flower Engelmann's Hedgehog bud opening

They are said to taste like strawberries and are a favorite of small animals and birds like the curve-bill Thrasher, which can easily   reach the fruit with its long bill.

Curved bill thrasher

At higher altitudes, the Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus grows.

Claret cup hedgehog Desert Botanical Garden Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus Claret Cup  Claret Cup

Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog is shorter and more densely arranged than the Engelmann’s Hedgehog. They also differ in that the Claret Cup typically blooms at night and closes during the day. They are the only Hedgehog cacti with red flowers.

A Nutty Argument between an Acorn Woodpecker and a Steller’s Jay

A Red-headed Acorn Woodpecker

An Acorn Woodpecker settles in to feast at the feeder.

Acorn Woodpecker

Aware of the other birds and squirrels in the area, the woodpecker looks around.

Acorn Woodpecker

The woodpecker admires the selection of seeds and nuts available.

Acorn Woodpecker

Always on alert, the woodpecker checks again for trouble.

Acorn Woodpecker

The woodpecker spots a rival bird.

Steller's Jay and Acorn Woodpecker

As the Steller’s Jay lands on the feeder, the Acorn Woodpecker stands his ground.

Steller's Jay and Acorn Woodpecker

The jay tries to intimidate the woodpecker by looking tall.

Acorn Woodpecker and Steller's Jay

The woodpecker defiantly argues as the jay tries to move in.

Argument between jay and woodpecker

A big dust -up between the Acorn Woodpecker and Steller’s Jay ensues.

Acorn Woodpecker takes ownership of the feeder.

And the winner is…the Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

The woodpecker considers the nut options in the feeder in peace.

Acorn Woodpecker

Finally the woodpecker settles in to eat his fill!

Nuthatch Adventures.

While watching the birds in the woods and yard, I have been learning a lot about their behaviors. Some birds and squirrels feed communally at our feeder while others insist on dining alone. While the Abert Squirrel this morning chased off woodpeckers, jays and other squirrels, he didn’t seem to be bothered by the tiny Nuthatch.
As I watched, the Nuthatch approached, quietly stood shopping for the best nut, picked it up and went off to to find a spot to eat it. Nuthatches are so named for their habit of wedging a large nut into tree bark and then pecking at it to get the shell open, thus “hatching” the nut.

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A Nuthatch cautiously makes it’s way down the tree to the feeder.

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The squirrel is listening, but he lets the Nuthatch approach.

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Shopping for the perfect nut.

Making his get-a-way

Making his get-a-way!

Looking for the best place to wedge the nut in order to peck it open.

Looking for the best place to wedge the nut in order to peck it open.