Friday, June 24, 2005


Debi let out a quiet yell this afternoon, shaking me loose from the office to go see, of all things, a Greater Roadrunner (geococcyx californianus) sitting just outside our outdoor cattery, teasing the two cats out there.

It stayed in one place long enough for me to grab my camera, mount the telephoto, and get this shot (right through a window, so I'm surprised it came out as well as it did).


Found in folklore to cartoons, the Greater Roadrunner is somewhat of a legend. Preferring to run rather than fly, this bird is part of the Cuckoo family, Cuculidae. This species, Geococcyx californianus, is found mainly throughout the Southwest. Look for it in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California as well as Nevada, southern Utah, Mexico, Arkansas and western Louisiana.

Roadrunners do not migrate but instead establish territories where both the male and female birds live year-round. These monogamous birds have an interesting way of courting: the male will dance about in front of his prospective mate, fanning his tail and alternately raising and dropping his wings. He then will prance back and forth with his wings and tail dropped low.

Once the female and male decide to become a pair, a nest is made in a short tree, bush or even cactus, with the nest off the ground but no higher than 12 feet normally. The pale yellow eggs are laid and incubated by both birds, although the male will usually do more of the nest-sitting. The baby birds will hatch in about 20 days, staying in the nest for 18 days before fledging. Both parents are kept busy, feeding the hungry young birds.

Greater Roadrunners are fairly large birds, being about 20-24 inches in length with a wingspan of around 32 inches. A long tail, long pale legs and feet, with brown, black, tan and white streaks on its neck, wings and back with a buffy underside, these birds are camoflagued in the brush, sand, and dirt. Roadrunners have a shaggy, spotted dark crest and a thick black hooked beak.

Although they certainly can fly, they normally do not, and then only for short distances, for instance up to a barbed wire fence from the ground. Their preferred mode of travel is to sprint about, running up to 15 miles per hour. They may flap their wings to get going, then run smoothly and swiftly with their head held low. Dining on a gourmet diet of snakes, insects, lizards, mice, rats and even some small birds, these birds will also eat fruit and seeds. Spying a lizard sunning itself on a rock, the Roadrunner will quickly run over and gobble up that tasty snack. Afterwards, they may take over sunning themselves on a fence post or even that same rock the unluckly lizard once occupied.

As usual, click on the thumbnail for a larger photo.

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