Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Roadrunner Revisited: Local Couple Fetching Dinner

Roadrunner in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Shortly after I posted on roadrunners my husband and I were driving down our street and spotted a roadrunner couple hunting for food. This time of year they most likely have a small brood waiting in their nest for some food. (Actually, by the time I post this they are probably teaching their three to six babies how to hunt.

Roadrunner behind tall grass in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As I discussed before, I refer to the roadrunner as a "humane" hunter because it captures its prey so quickly the creature doesn't even know what happened, then it smacks the head of its prey on the ground, killing it instantly or at least knocking it unconscious before eating it.

In this picture you see the Roadrunner leaping from a wall to catch a bug. This is how its wings and tail appear from behind. They can fly, but generally only fly short distances to escape a predator or catch prey. They can leap six feet in the air to capture hummingbirds. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Roadrunners eat just about anything, including scorpions, which we greatly appreciated when we lived in Texas as we had a horrible infestation of Tree Bark Scorpions in our house. I often found two or more each day scampering across the floor and our last night in the house before moving to New Mexico, one climbed into my pajamas and stung me four times. Although I knew they were hunting our precious lizards and hummingbirds, as well, Roadrunners were always a welcome sight around our home. Here in New Mexico I generally see them eating lizards and small birds, like finches and sparrows. 

Roadrunner siting on brick wall with lizard in its mouth. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

On this day, both the male and female Roadrunner were lucky--they both caught a lizard within minutes of each other. In New Mexico they seem more comfortable with people so they did not run off when they saw me taking their picture. In fact, this one seemed to be posing with his catch. 

In this photo you can see the Roadrunners beautiful green tail. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

After years of drought we did have severe flooding in the Rio Grande Valley this past year, which I think is why we have so many baby lizards, swallowtails, baby house finches, swallows and sparrows, and bees. Oddly, we've also been swarmed with tan camo-colored grasshoppers. I generally associate grasshoppers with drought. The grasshopper timing is perfect for the birds, though, as they have plenty to eat! 

I like this photo (so I saved it for last) because it shows the magnificent colors of the Roadrunner. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Roadrunner: Beep Beep!

Our neighborhood Roadrunner. He's a funny little critter, bold and ambitious. He often jumps the wall, runs right behind me, snags a bird and leaps back over the wall before the dogs and I even have a chance to think of moving. I suspect he is a teenager, hides out in the arroyos in the morning playing chicken with his friends. "I'll bet I can run past all four dogs in that yard over the wall and snag a sparrow!" Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

This post is dedicated to my grandson, Timothy Jack. He's a bit young to have a favorite animal, so I chose one that I thought would make him laugh, since T.J. is always smiling!

I fell in love with Roadrunners the first time I saw one standing in front of our house looking for lizards. It moved its head slowly, carefully, as if it was trying to be invisible through lack of movement, but everyone in the front of the house knew he was there--it was completely silent. Not even a flit of a hummingbird--Road Runners can leap six feet in the air and catch a hummingbird in mid-flight. 

Roadrunner in Albuquerque. New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Suddenly it darted straight forward, literally with lightning speed, and snagged an anole lizard off the front of our house. Just as quickly, the bird slammed the lizard's head onto the cement, killing it instantly. 

Roadrunner in New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I call Roadfunners "humane Hunters." It must be terrifying to find yourself in the beak of a predator knowing you're about to be eaten, but Roadrunners are not into torture. They quickly release their prey from that misery with a swift smack on the head. 

This bird likes to meet my husband for lunch. He knows when my husband has his break and shows up in the parking lot begging for scraps. Roadrunners are opportunistic eaters and apparently enjoyed peanut butter and jelly. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Roadrunners are in the Cuckoo family. There are two kinds, the Greater Roadrunner and Lesser Roadrunner. The Greater Road Runner lives in the American Southwest. The Lesser Roadrunner can be found in Mexico and Central America. The Roadrunner (Geococcyx) is also known as a Chaparral Bird and a Chaparral Cock. 

Roadrunner in Kingsland, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Roadrunners can "can outrace a human [they've been clocked at 20 mph], kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest." I've seen them do all of these things, although I've also noticed that the Roadrunners that came out of the forest near our home in Texas were much more shy than the Roadrunners living near our home in New Mexico. 

Road runner in Kingsland, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

One day, a few years back, I was having a garage sale and it was packed! Most of the shoppers were in my driveway. I was talking to a neighbor when we suddenly noticed everyone was stepping back and to the side and laughing. That's when I saw the Roadrunner strolling between the shoppers, looking for food. He must have thought it was a party! 

Roadrunner stopping by the garage sale in Rio Rancho New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Our neighborhood Roadrunner also enjoys sitting in my shrub. He resembles a child hiding his head under a pillow with his bottom sticking up in the air shouting "You can't see me!" 

Roadrunner hiding in the shrub beside our house. He is surprisingly successful at snagging small birds and I have no idea why as he is clearly seen! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Yes, he is very obvious when he sits in our shrub! Lol! 

Roadrunner hiding in our shrub. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think the best experience we had with roadrunners was one spring in Texas when our house roadrunner showed up in the forest section in front of our house with his mate and a juvenile. They were teaching the baby to hunt, and they were diligent, firm, cautious--they will fly, but prefer to sprint to avoid predators, and do this well. 

Roadrunner in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

 They moved slowly so the baby could keep up and this gave me the perfect opportunity to study them. I watched them from the window, admiring their fancy head dress, long legs and strong feet, and their beak that resembles that of the curve-billed thrashers that live in our yard here in New Mexico. I could see a patch behind each eye with shades of blue and red. Most of the time their tails were closed, but once the smaller bird opened its tail that had white tips.

Roadrunner in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This spoiled little creature lives next to a chiropractor's office and the employees in the building bring snacks every day for his brood. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Roadrunners live year round in the same place where they breed and raise their young, so when I speak possessively of these birds, there is a reason. It really is "the neighborhood bird" or "my backyard bird." They have an elaborate courtship display of dipping and bowing, then mate for life. They build their nests on a platform of sticks on a low tree or cactus. They have two to six eggs in a clutch and take turns keeping them warm. Their young leave the nest at two to three weeks old for hunting lessons. Watching that hunting lesson was one of the greatest animal experiences I had in Texas. The parents were so loving and careful. They are beautiful creatures. 

Road Runner in Kingsland, Texas saying "Adios!" Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. I think what surprises me the most, now that I've finished this post, is I still have dozens of photos to choose from, which is amazing considering they run at 20 mph! Lol! 

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge R is for Roadrunner!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Gambel's Quail: Funny Little Desert Birds

Gambel's Quail in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The first time we saw a Gambel's Quail we were in the desert outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. We saw two adults and I have no idea how many babies because they have this great defensive habit of scattering in all directions, running so quickly then turning and changing directions so fast that you can barely follow them with a camera! They are lovely birds and great fun to watch! 

Gambel's Quail sitting in a tree in the arroyo behind my house. I love his black, velvety face. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The Gambel's Quail is a true Southwestern bird (and I am speaking figuratively, not scientifically). It is found in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Visitors to New Mexico and Arizona may confuse them with the similar California Quail, but they are not the same species and their territories do not overlap. 

Female Gambel's Qual in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I've often seen Gambel's Quail referred to as "chubby little birds," but they are fast, smart, and cautious. I see them perched on debris from dead trees that people discard in the desert, fence posts, anything that provides them with a slight height advantage so they can watch for predators and send their young scrambling for safety. It's a shame that humans are among the predators or I might have better pictures of them! However, I am certain this pair will soon be scrambling through our neighborhood with a covey of quail as they are clearly paired and will have babies. 

The romantic couple scrambled when they saw me, darting in opposite directions, backtracking, trying to confuse me, then reunited when they realized I was not chasing them and they were safe. 

Gambel's Quail have short necks, small bills, square tails and are easily identified by the bobs on top of their heads. They camouflage well in the desert with their gray, cream, brown and reddish-brown coloring. They are also low to the ground so it's difficult to see them as they scramble among the sage. When they do fly, it is a fast, powerful, but short dart to give them a boost away from a predator. 

They may be a desert bird, but this couple has decided they like my house. This fella is making a quick run across our driveway. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

A group of quail is called a covey. The coveys of Gambel's Quail generally consist of a dozen or more birds. They eat grass and cactus fruit. They hang out in their coveys in the winter the same way antelope do, then pair off in spring. They have 10-12 eggs that incubate for 20 or so days then suddenly have a covey of their own scrambling this way and that! How I wish you could see them, they are such a delight! They look like very busy people running about on city streets trying to get their business done. 

Female Gambel's Quail. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Unfortunately, some areas allow hunting seasons for this bird, lasting from October to February, which seems rather silly--they provide food for desert predators such as wolves and coyotes and cannot possibly provide much meat. If we continue to kill the food of the predators, they will continue to attack our pets and livestock--it's common sense. 


In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge Q is for Quail.