The Road Runner Bird
The road runner bird conserves energy during cold desert nights by becoming sluggish, then warms in the morning by exposing its dark dorsal skin to the sun.
The roadrunner lives up to its cartoon character image as it dashes across North American desert highways at breakneck speed in pursuit of its prey. Built for life on foot, the roadrunner acquires an intimate knowledge of its territory and uses this to catch prey and escape predators. The roadrunner can raise or lower its long, crown feathers according to its mood or activity. Its long, strong bill is designed for catching and killing prey. The roadrunner has very strong legs and feet that give it speed, but it is a weak and ungainly flyer. The roadrunner uses its short, broad wings mainly to help it balance and slow down as it sprints across the ground after prey. The long tail serves as a rudder and counterbalance and aids maneuverability when hunting or fleeing from danger on foot.
The roadrunner lives in dry, open country, especially semiarid scrub known as chaparral. The bird is common at altitudes below 3,300’. The bird is attracted to cattle ranches where it dashes onto the pasture occasionally to snap up insects disturbed by the grazing livestock. Although the roadrunner spends most of its life on the ground, it occasionally perches on fence posts and in trees. A familiar bird of "cowboy country," the roadrunner is generally held in high esteem.
The roadrunner, which earned its name by running in front of stagecoaches, has entered American folklore on account of its bizarre behavior. It’s so reluctant to fly, that, when threatened by a predator, its first defense is to lie motionless on the ground. The roadrunner flees on foot only when danger gets too close for comfort. If really necessary, the bird takes clumsily to the air, but usually, running in a series of sudden changes of direction leaves its pursuer baffled and beaten.
The roadrunner typically runs a short distance before halting and spying for prey, with its neck stretched high and tail cocked. When hunting snakes, the roadrunner relies on stealth, speed, agility, and power, as it is not immune to venom. It outwits its victim in a fast moving skirmish, seizing the snake by its head and beating it violently on the ground. Despite its prowess as a snake catcher, the roadrunner feeds mainly on spiders and large insects snatched from the ground or flushed from plants.
The male courts his intended mate by cooing to her and dancing around her with tail fanned and wings drooping. Once paired, the two adults remain together for life. The nest is built in a cactus or shrub, several feet above the ground. Chicks are fed insects and small lizards at first but can catch some of their own food at less than three weeks old.
The naturally harsh and sparsely populated environment in which the roadrunner lives is one of its best safeguards for survival, as this bird is fully equipped to survive extreme conditions of drought and heat.