Roadrunner Life

The Greater Roadrunner, a bird of the American Southwest, used to run fast in front of horse-drawn wagons in pioneer days. However, unlike the beleaguered coyote target of cartoons, they weren't running from something but toward their prey, lizards, rodents and insects. Roadrunners are able to run up to 17 mph, but they only fly for a few seconds.

Roadrunners are part of the cuckoo family, but unlike their parasitic cousins, they do not take over the nests of other birds. Instead they mix twigs and foul-smelling animal dung together to make nests in small shrubs or cacti.

Like other cuckoos, they have true green pigment in their feathers. Cuckoos are the only birds to achieve the green color through a pigment. Other birds look greener through the interaction of different pigments or the way pigment interacts with the structure of feathers.

Roadrunners have two toes that go forward and two that go back, so their running footprints look like a series of quick x's across the ground.

A Quest for Roadrunners

Greater Roadrunners are found throughout the year in the desert Southwest of the United States. They do not migrate, so sadly, sometimes populations decline after severe winters.

Roadrunners make their homes in a range of southwestern habitats: open grasslands, semi-arid areas, deserts, thicket and brushy areas, and scrubland full of thorny shrubs.

Personally, I have spotted roadrunners in two diverse locations. I saw my first roadrunner in the oak and ponderosa scrubland of Tehachapi, CA, maybe around an altitude of 4000 feet. This habitat, where quite a few trees grow at altitude, differs slightly from the common habitats described in my birding guides. Maybe this particular roadrunner had run up and out of the nearby Mojave Desert to the cooler Tehachapi mountains.

My second roadrunner sighting occurred in a more classic location, an empty desert lot full of rocks, thorny scrub, and loose dirt overlooking the Colorado River in Laughlin, NV. However, this roadrunner did defy its reputation as a solitary bird. It was just steps from the door of a loud casino hotel, dim interior punctuated by pulsing lights.

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