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Wildlife Interactions with Saguaros

gila woodpecker on saguaro cactus

NPS PHOTO. Gila woodpecker

Saguaro cacti are host to a great variety of animals. The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro's pulpy flesh. When a woodpecker abandons a cavity, elf owls, screech owls, purple martins, finches and sparrows may move in.

Hawks nesting in saguaro  
Owl perched on saguaro top with mouse
Harris's hawk nestlings & Great-horned owl with mouse

Large birds, like the Harris's and red-tailed hawks, also use the saguaro for nesting and hunting platforms. Their stick nests are constructed among the arms of a large saguaro. In turn, ravens and great horned owls may take over an abandoned hawk nest.

Doves eating saguaro fruits and bat eating saguaro nectar
White-winged doves feast on saguaro fruits.  Lesser Long-nosed bat enjoys saguaro nectar & pollen.
DOVES: NPS PHOTO  -- BAT: Merlin Tuttle, Bat Conservation Institute

Saguaro cacti also provide a valuable source of food for animals. In early summer saguaro flowers provide nectar and pollen for bats that in turn pollinate the flowers. The Mexican Long-tongued and the Lesser Long-nosed bats are the two species that pollinate the saguaro at Saguaro National Park. In mid-summer, ripening fruit provides moisture and an energy-rich food for birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects during a time of scarcity.

Packrats and jackrabbits munch on young saguaros to get moisture.  Unlike humans, they can deal with the acid in the juices.

In drier areas of the SonoranDesert, pack rats, jackrabbits, mule deer and bighorn sheep will also eat the young saguaro's flesh when other water sources are not available.

owl in cavity created by gila woodpecker or gilded flicker
NPS PHOTO.  Elf owl

Did You Know?


"Don't call ME pig!" Javelinas are able to eat spiny prickly pear pads with no obvious harm to their mouths, stomachs or intestinal tracts due to an enzyme in their saliva. Javelinas are not true pigs, they are peccaries, which are native to the Americas. True pigs are native to Europe and Asia. Wild pigs and boars are descended from true pigs brought over on boats to the new world.