A greater roadrunner on the run. The New Mexico state bird is skilled at killing rattle snakes

A greater roadrunner on the run. The New Mexico state bird is skilled at killing rattle snakes

These road runners weren’t running, or saying ‘beep beep’

The greater roadrunner has always held a special spot in my heart. As a kid, my parents called me the roadrunner because I ran everywhere. This girl didn’t walk when running got me there faster.

The greater roadrunner has always held a special spot in my heart.

As a kid, my parents called me the roadrunner because I ran everywhere. This girl didn’t walk when running got me there faster.

I’ve managed to see only a few roadrunners in my years of birding. The first time was several years ago when husband Larry and I took a driving trip to Arizona one summer. I was bound and determined that I was going to see a roadrunner.

But they were nowhere. I went to this church which, according to a friend of mine, “always” had roadrunners in the parking lot and running along the stone walls. We were told that they would be on the lawns in a particular subdivision of Tucson. We went back to the church where they “always” hung out. We were down to our last day before heading north for home.

We went back a third time to the church and still couldn’t find any roadrunners. “We have to head north now, Judy,” Larry said. So reluctantly we did. We turned a corner and there was a roadrunner! But it wasn’t running. It had one leg that had obviously been broken at one time and had healed improperly. It could still get around, though. So that was my first glimpse of this special bird. The next time I saw a roadrunner was as we were whooshing by on a highway. The bird was on the ground below a billboard. By the time we got stopped and went back, it was long gone. So as you can see, I’d never had a really, really good look at the bird that I was named after. Until this winter, that is.

Larry and I just spent three weeks driving down to Texas and back, 10,440 km in all. I’m not sure I will ever do that sort of a winter vacation ever again. It just wasn’t warm enough. The snow chased us all the way down to New Mexico and back again. While we were gone, you all had wonderful weather with no snow at all. We’d been home for three days and had to shovel our walks twice! Grrrrr.

The greater roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico so I assumed that we would see them in that state. And we did! One of my favourite places was the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along the Rio Grande River. Just after we arrived, we were walking in the parking lot and I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a greater roadrunner.

These birds prefer to run rather than fly and can go up to 15 m.p.h., which is 24 km/h. This particular roadrunner was not running. Nor was he going, “beep beep” like the cartoon character. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sound a roadrunner makes. According to my iPad app, a roadrunner actually makes a cooing sound. The female can make a bark and the male makes a clack that is faintly reminiscent to the beep beep.

We were so close to this bird that we got to see the bright colour behind the eye. The bird is a very cryptic brown colour. But it has a thick white line behind the eye that ends in an orange colour, with a bit of blue around the eye. These two colours aren’t actually feathers. They are bare patches on the head. The top of the head is a darker colour than the rest of the bird, and it can raise or lower this crest. In my reading about roadrunners, I found out that they can raise their feathers, exposing their black skin, a way to warm up.

We saw this particular bird several times. He seemed to like hanging out in the parking lot. He was fascinating to watch. He would pounce around in the leaf litter. We never noticed him catch anything, but apparently they are famous for catching rattlesnakes. They catch them by the tail and smack their heads on the ground. I’m actually glad that we didn’t see that Larry because would have found it “disturbing.”

Now that I’ve seen the greater roadrunner, the next bird I really really need to see, to add to my life list would be the ivory-billed woodpecker. Can’t you just see me in camouflage netting in a canoe in the Arkansas bayou? I can.

Judy Boyd is a member of the Red Deer River Naturalists.