Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Road Runner Fast Food Restaurant in my Backyard

"If you're on the highway and Road Runner goes "beep, beep," 
just step aside or you might end up in a heap!" 

The "Roadrunner Song" was written and sung by Barbara Cameron for a series of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons based on characters created by Animation Director Chuck Jones in 1948 for Warner Bros. A few years have passed since I first watched the Wile E. Coyote try to destroy the Roadrunner with a variety of strange devices purchased from The Acme Corporation, and although modern parents may argue against the amount of violence in the show (and rightly so) I still laugh when I think of this show.

And all these years later, I now have my own version of The Roadrunner Show playing out in my backyard. As I stand near the shed chopping wood, or work on the back porch potting plants, the neighborhood road runner flies over the side gate, trots confidently along the wall behind me, leaps into the air and snatches a tiny sparrow so quickly if you blink, you miss it, then trots to the back wall, flies into the arroyo, and eats his lunch.

He may be sneaky, by he's very photogenic. (All photos by Darla Sue Dollman.) 

This has become a daily occurrence now. We had such a huge baby boom last spring in the community bird shrub on the side of the house that his antics have hardly made a dent in the population. Nevertheless, it is a bit disconcerting to know that my bird feeders, water containers, careful cleanliness and care has set up a fast food restaurant for the neighborhood predator.

I believe he is a male. He is quite colorful, but still young, clearly a juvenile. He is clever, agile, and shockingly fast, with the emphasis on shock--by the time I turn around and set down the ax, he's captured his lunch and disappeared from my yard.

Road Runner perched on the wall and ready to flee.

I first noticed the Roadrunner this past summer when I was having daily garage sales. It was a particularly busy sale and he must have thought it was a barbecue because he was wandering between the shoes of my amused neighbors, jerking his head from side to side as he searched for snacks. Roadrunners are opportunistic eaters, which means they'll eat anything they can find. My husband sold sunglasses from a trailer this past summer and there was a Roadrunner living nearby who always knew when my husband was about to eat lunch because he would suddenly appear at the door of the trailer, begging for scraps of bread. Steve started taking two lunches, one for him and a baggie of snacks for the bird.

Sometimes the circle of life in the animal world can be heartbreaking. I love my song birds. I love the fact that I can hear them chattering in their shrub when I am on the complete opposite end of the house with all windows and doors closed. When my children and grandchildren visited last year my daughter asked how I could possibly stand the noise. As the cliche goes, it is music to my ears. When I walk my dogs through the neighborhood, I can hear my bird shrub a block away.

My sweet, little friends are, unfortunately, Road Runner to-go food. 

Obviously, it is a bit painful to watch the Roadrunner escaping with my little friends, but there is an interesting, albeit morbid, consolation to this situation--death comes quickly from a Roadrunner. They are not only surprisingly fast when they capture their prey, but they immediately smack their victim's head against the ground or brick wall, killing the creature instantly. They literally never know what hits them. I have seen them do this numerous times to lizards. You blink and you miss it.

Road runner's favorite snack food. High in protein, low in sugar. 
I run the healthiest fast food joint in town! 

The Roadrunner is the New Mexico State Bird. There are two species in the Rio Grande Valley, the Greater Roadrunner  (Geococcyx californianus) and Lesser Roadrunner. They belong to the cuckoo family and are also known as the Californian Earth Cuckoo; chaparral cock; ground cuckoo, and "snake killer."

Roadrunners breed in the desert and are seen most often in the American Southwest--California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. They can also be found in lesser numbers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. In Mexico, they live in Baja California, California Sur, Sonora, Chihuahua, and various other places.

The Roadrunner builds its nest out of sticks arranged on a cactus or bush. They lay between three and six eggs, which hatch in 20 days. Chicks fledge, or develop feathers for flight, in 18 days. A Roadrunner couple may have two broods a year.

This is one well-fed Road Runner. (He's looking a bit chubby.)

The Greater Roadrunner is two feet long, and most of that length is its tail. They are wobbly-looking birds with funny legs and thin, pointed beaks, or bills. The upper part of their body is brown with black streaks, though I've seen them with pink spots, too. Their necks are white or light brown with dark brown streaks. They have white bellies. In addition to their speed, they are also known for the crest of brown feathers that stick up on the head and their beauty is in the patch of orange and blue skin behind each eye--very pretty. Sometimes this can be difficult to see when they're running past, but it shows up well in pictures.

Note the colors around the eyes. Beautiful.

I actually had more opportunity to observe their behavior while living in Texas. We had a pair living on our five acres that would bring their young up close to the front picture windows of our house to teach the to hunt. The shrubs near our house were filled with anole lizards, a Roadrunner treat, but they also eat insects, fruit, seeds, snakes, mice, spiders, scorpions,centipedes and millipedes, so they could be considered a beneficial animal, as well. If they are attacking a large snake they will work as a team. It's easy to tell when they spot an animal. The Roadrunner will hold very still for a few moments as if it is taking a rest, then suddenly strike with amazing speed.

Lovely little lizard I photographed at my daughter's house in Colorado. 
We didn't see any Road Runners in the neighborhood. 
Apparently I run the only Road Runner fast food joint. 

I read an article that said "they are capable of weak flight," but the one who lives in our neighborhood gets around very well. In fact, he likes to sit on the neighbor's roof to rate his meal options. As for speed, Roadrunners have been clocked at 26 mph, the fastest running speed every clocked for a flying bird.

The Hopi believe the Roadrunner provides protection against evil spirits, so in that respect, I guess we should consider ourselves blessed. To be honest, I do consider his daily visits as a blessing, in spite of the loss of my tiny friends. Our young Roadrunner friend is also a special creation, a gift from God.