By PATRICIA SIMPSON
The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) has long captured the imagination, with possibly the most famous example being the beloved Looney Tunes animations where Wile E. Coyote, a starving not-so-clever scheming coyote, endlessly chases an astute fast-as-lightning roadrunner. I always laugh when the coyote piles birdseed on the road hoping to attract his prey. In the cartoon, the roadrunner indulges in such treats, but in real life, birdseed is not a great way to entice our great feathered friend.
Our observation of the month (visit bit.ly/3k8VKwp) by wildliferunner12 is a perfect example of what does entice a roadrunner: a nice juicy lizard. Besides reptiles, roadrunners enjoy rodents, amphibians, insects, scorpions, and the occasional bird. Only in winter will they consider adding plant material such as seeds to their diet and it’s never more than about 10% of it.
Roadrunners are not called ‘treeflyers’ for good reason. While they can fly short distances and from perch to perch, they are more comfortable on foot in open spaces. Deserts, chaparral, grasslands, and riparian areas are favorites. The roadrunner’s powerful legs can propel the bird about 20 mph, with some individuals clocked up to 26 mph. For perspective, these feathered athletes would probably get a silver medal when racing the 100-meter against Usain Bolt (27 mph).
In addition to being fast on their feet, roadrunners have incredible speedy reflexes and they need them to hunt rattlesnakes. They will repeatedly peck the snake’s head while avoiding strikes.
Because roadrunners need to roam and hunt in territories about half-mile in diameter, they do poorly in heavily urbanized areas and fragmented lands where they fall prey to cars, domestic or feral pets, or lack of food availability. In Southern California, their number is diminishing. Fortunately, their number overall is not in decline as the birds are expanding their normal Southwest territories to include southwest Missouri, western Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and Louisiana, where they are adapting to different habitats.
Mission Trails makes a great home for these magnificent birds. Keep your eyes on the trail, you might just run into one! In the meantime, check out this incredible slow motion video at youtu.be/onVbjDW-tqQ of a roadrunner catching an unusual prey! This backyard roadrunner definitely has earned one of his many Looney Tune Latin names: “Speedipus rex,” “Velocitus tremenjus” or “Accelleratti incredibus” (among others).
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.