Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greater Roadrunner

Beep Beep!   Who does not enjoy seeing the low profile of a Roadrunner darting across the road or flying up into a nearby shrub or tree? For many, a sighting bring backs memories of cartoons, specifically, Warner Brothers, that popularized the Greater Roadrunner – older generations enjoyed these with popcorn at the movies, followed by the younger  generations of Saturday morning cartoon-watchers.  Another name for this bird is Chaparral Cock.

Greater Roadrunner with Worm, taken at Hagerman NWR by Tigger Saldy

Here are some “Cool Facts” about the Roadrunner, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
  • Roadrunners hold a special place in Native American and Mexican legends and belief systems, revered for their courage, strength, speed, and endurance. The roadrunner’s distinctive X-shaped footprint—with two toes pointing forward and two backward—are used as sacred symbols by Pueblo tribes to ward off evil. The X shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.
  • Despite the cartoon character’s perennial victories over Wile E. Coyote, real-life coyotes present a real danger. The mammals can reach a top speed of 43 miles an hour—more than twice as fast as roadrunners.
  • Roadrunners have evolved a range of adaptations to desert living. Like seabirds, they secrete a solution of highly concentrated salt through a gland just in front of each eye, using less water than excreting it via their kidneys and urinary tract. Moisture-rich prey including mammals and reptiles supply them otherwise-scarce water in their diet. Both chicks and adults flutter the unfeathered area beneath the chin (gular fluttering) to dissipate heat.
  • Their poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, gives no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.

Found in all the Southwestern states, Greater Roadrunners are year-round residents in Texas.  They breed from early March to late-October.  In Spring, the male roadrunner offers choice food morsels to a female as an inducement to mating and dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.  After the pair builds a nest 3 – 10 feet above the ground, the female will lay 2 – 6 eggs; they may nest 2 - 3 times during a favorable breeding season.

From “The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas”  of Texas A&M, we learned that despite its popularity as a popular multicultural iconic bird, from prehistory to modern time, the Greater Roadrunner was one of the last bird species to be given state protection because of the mistaken belief that the birds were a threat to declining quail populations.


No comments:

Post a Comment