An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Greater Roadrunner
Sep 18, 2018 10:04PM
By Paul Spear
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a long-legged bird in the cuckoo family primarily found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. They periodically expand their range to the north and east, but are killed back by severe winters. They may be in long-term decline in California. They are the most famous bird in the southwest, featured in folklore and cartoons, known by its long tail and expressive crest. The Roadrunner walks and runs on the ground, flying only when necessary. It can run 15 miles per hour, probably with much faster spurts when chasing a fast-running lizard or other prey. Its prowess as a rattlesnake fighter has been much exaggerated, but it does eat a remarkable variety of smaller creatures.
Habitat is in deserts, and open country with scattered brush. They are most common in the Sonoran desert and in other kinds of brushy country, including chaparral and the Texas brushlands, in areas with a mix of open ground and dense low cover. At the limits of their range, they are found in dry grassland, forest edges, and limestone hills with scattered junipers.
Roadrunners usually hunt by walking rapidly, looking for prey, then making a very rapid dash forward to catch prey in its bill. They may leap straight up from ground to catch insects or birds flying over (has been seen catching hummingbirds this way).
Diet includes insects, reptiles, rodents, and birds. They feed on many large insects, plus other arthropods including scorpions, tarantulas, and centipedes. They also catch many lizards, snakes, mice, young ground squirrels, small birds (including baby quail and adult sparrows), and sometimes snails. They also eat some fruits (especially cactus fruit) and seeds.
Roadrunners may mate for life, with pairs defending territory all year. Courtship includes chases on foot, with frequent pauses to rest. One bird (either sex) approaches the other with a stick or blade of grass, and drops it on the ground or gives it to another bird. In other displays, males run away from females with their tail and wings raised over their back, gradually lowering their wings; males wag their tail from side to side while slowly bowing. Nest site is in dense bush, a low tree, or a cactus, usually 2-12' above ground, rarely on the ground. Nest is a platform of sticks, lined with grass, leaves, feathers, and sometimes with snakeskin or pieces of cow manure.
After mating, females lay 3-5, sometimes 2-6 eggs, white to pale yellowish. Incubation is by
both parents (male does more), in about 20 days. Young are fed by both parents; and leave the nest after about 18-21 days. May begin catching their own food soon after leaving the nest, but are still fed by parents up to another 30-40 days.
I spotted 2 Roadrunners in our great Tijuana Estuary recently. That is the first time I have seen them there. They are elusive, and difficult to spot since they are gone in a flash. Look for this interesting bird species there while enjoying a walk or bike ride. Until next week, happy birding!
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