The Roadrunner


We have a Roadrunner who comes every year around this time to hang out in the parking
lot of the ranger station. This year he has an especially funny hairdo. I mean all
Roadrunners have crests, but this guy's gray and brown head feathers are poking out
about 3-4 inches in every direction! I doubt he requested such an obnoxious hairdo... If I
were him I would not go back to the hairdresser he last visited.

This morning he, or perhaps it is a she, is busy catching lizards. He takes off full speed
across the parking lot to catch one, then trots back rather jauntily to the bushes with his
catch. Yesterday the lizard he was carrying had his tongue stretched out and flapping in
the breeze and it was about as long as his tail. It was a rather silly sight!

I love watching him run. He holds his tail and his body upright as his strong stout legs
carry him across the parking lot in a rather clownish gait. He is about two feet long from
beak to tail and I often get glimpses of him while I'm working up front.

Roadrunners (
Geococcyx californianus) are classified as ground cuckoos. Other ground
cuckoos live in Central and South America. They are uniquely adapted to living in the
desert. They excrete salt through their nasal glands instead of through their urinary
tracts and they reabsorb water from their feces before excretion (I know you were just
dying to know that). They also reduce their activity 50% during the heat of day. When
prey is less abundant in the winter months they do eat plants.

Last year we did have a few rattlesnakes show up near the office and I've heard
Roadrunners can catch rattlers. They can run 17 mph which is apparently fast enough to
catch a rattlesnake. A roadrunner can, "snap up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, crack it
like a whip and repeatedly slam its head against the ground till dead. It then swallows its
prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not
stop the Roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the
snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests."
Wow, wouldn't that be something to see?

So, Roadrunners are quick, quick enough to snatch hummingbirds and dragon flies out of
the air as well as catch rattlers. But 17 mph still doesn't sound that fast to me. I looked
up how fast coyotes are and they can run up to 40 mph. So why didn't Wile E. Coyote ever
catch the Roadrunner?

Roadrunners mate in the spring and both males and females help make the small
saucer-shaped nest in a cactus, bush, or small tree. The female lays 2-12 eggs and the
incubation time is 18-20 days. Both males and females help incubate the eggs. Okay, that
image creates a nice fuzzy feeling, but then there's this... The first chicks to hatch often
crowd out the late arriving runts and these in turn are often eaten by the parents. Ah,
well, ya gotta love nature!

Anyway, 3-4 chicks usually survive and fledge from the nest in about 2 weeks. They
usually stick around with the parents for another 2 then they're off on their own to
ramble their desert home.

Roadrunners can live to be 7 or 8 years old. I hope our Roadrunner is a youngster that will
come back next year, and the next...



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