Sunday, February 18, 2007

Backyard Birds: Greater Roadrunner

For the first time yesterday, I was able to photograph a Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) in our back yard. Since we built the concrete patio wall last year, I've seen Roadrunners on the wall only a couple of times. I was standing at the kitchen door counting House Finches for the Great Backyard Bird Count when this one showed up. When I displayed the photos on my monitor, I was delighted and surprised to see the colours in its tail and on its head.The Greater Roadrunner is a ground-dwelling cuckoo. That's usually a surprise to my UK friends and certainly was to me. The cuckoo of my English childhood (Cuculus canorus) was a large bird, popular for its "ku-koo" sound but vilified for laying its eggs in other birds' nests.

The italicized sections below are "cool facts" taken from Cornell's All About Birds:
  • The Greater Roadrunner can reach running speeds of 30 km/hr (18.6 mi/hr). It holds its head and tail flat and parallel to the ground when running at its top speed.
  • To warm up after a cold desert night, a roadrunner will turn its back to the sun, fluff its back feathers, and expose skin along its back. This skin is black in order to absorb more solar energy. (Amophila Adventures posted a great photo of this yesterday.)
  • The Greater Roadrunner eats many venomous prey items, including scorpions, spiders, and rattlesnakes. Two birds may cooperate to kill a large snake.
  • The Greater Roadrunner is an opportunistic forager. It frequently captures small birds at bird feeders and nest boxes. One was observed to leap up from hiding in a dry riverbed and knock down a low-flying White-throated Swift.
I caught this behaviour quite by accident. I saw the Roadrunner jump down from the wall to the Kool Decking and then run off with something in its mouth. When I enlarged and cropped the photo, I saw that it had caught a male House Finch. (Blurred photo taken through the kitchen window. Click to enlarge.)

  • The desert-dwelling roadrunner uses salt glands in front of its eyes to excrete excess salt from its blood. Such glands are common in ocean-going birds that can drink seawater. The roadrunner is able to get along without drinking water if it eats food with high enough water content, but it will drink readily if water is available.
Only in cartoons does the Roadrunner go "Beep-Beep." It actually has a soft cooing sound.

13 comments:

Duncan said...

That's some bird to have in your backyard Pam, formidable bill.

John said...

That's a great backyard bird. I had no idea that roadrunners caught small birds, but I am not all that surprised.

robin andrea said...

When my parents lived in the desert they saw roadrunners quite often. They told me the story of one that came up on to their porch and grabbed a hummingbird nest with newborns and ran off with it. They are quite interesting looking creatures. Cool photos.

jimmy said...

Really Cool! I would love to see one of them someday.

LauraHinNJ said...

Wow! Never heard that they eat birds. Thanks for the neat pics.

Endment said...

I do miss the Roadrunners that visited occasionally in Texas and New Mexico. What a special treat to find these photos on your blog today.

Daniel said...

I always thought of Roadrunners in terms of cute birds. Now for the first time I'm aware that they are real predators. It is amazing that you got the photo with the finch in his mouth. Poor finch.

donna said...

We used to see roadrunner and quail in our back yard here in San Diego, but it's been many years since I've seen one around. Once all the rattlesnakes were killed off, they went away as well, it seems.

We still have hawks and bunnies, at least.

chiefbiscuit said...

That's one cool bird. I am hanging out to buy a digi cam so I can do some bird blogs too - saw a couple of sandpipers yesterday on my beach walk. The 500th albatross chick was born not so long ago at the albatross sanctuary we have here in Dunedin, so that was chance to blog on birds. Thanks Pam, I enjoy your bird piccies so much.

Snail said...

That's fantastic, Pam! What a cool bird to have in your garden. (Not sure the finches feel the same way.)

I guess our equivalent in the garden is the kookaburra. (Although that's a kingfisher not a cuckoo.) One that lived at my former place used to belt sparrows on the verandah rail. It wasn't pretty.

Mary said...

An amazing bird and not a bit like our Cuckoo.

Gil Miller said...

What a great post and photos of the roadrunner. Like the other commenters, I had know idea that they preyed on small birds.
Clearly, here in the east (Virginia: http://crhabitat.blogspot.com/) we do not see the roadrunner, but we do have several of the birds on your bird count list.

Kerri said...

These pictures are amazing! What a treat to see this interesting bird. I'm rather glad it's there and not here though, with it's predatorial appetite.
Poor little house finch.
You got a couple of really great shots. Thanks for sharing.