Foam Lake Birding No. 61

No. 61
The comic book, movie and television industries have popularized, and also misrepresented, some of our wild birds and animals. Several examples are: Woody Woodpecker (Pileated Woodpecker), Ole Mistah Buzzard (Turkey Vulture), Andy Panda, Bugs Bunny and Wylie Coyote. However, few have caught the imagination of readers and viewers as much as the Greater Road Runner. It definitely caught my attention to the point that I decided to feature it this week.
Greetings from California. This is one place where the largest member of the cuckoo family, the Greater Road Runner, is quite common. From now on, I shall refer to it simply as the Road Runner as its slightly smaller relative, the Lesser Road Runner, is a resident of southern Mexico and South America and never seen in the USA. A mix up is impossible. As portrayed in the cartoons, it is a ground dwelling chicken sized brown striped bird that runs around looking for food. Males and females are the same. As implied in the comics, it is a fast runner, but unlike the depiction in the cartoons, a coyote would have little trouble in chasing it down and catching it. It can fly but only does so to get up or down difficult terrain or to escape danger. I have seen one fly up to the top of a large (8 foot) water fountain, then, proceed to fly to the top of a fairly large house, and then, presumably fly down. I have also seen one fly down a large steep embankment. There is some differing of opinion as to whether or not it is capable of sustained flight.
The physical characteristics of the Road Runner, as depicted in the cartoons, are for the most part quite accurate, but for two. As alluded to earlier, it does not have blazing speed, nor does it make those funny beep beep sounds. Its stretched out form, when running, and its rocking motion with tail raised as it stops, are very accurately shown. Unlike the cartoon character’s beep beep, the real bird has a surprisingly soft coo sound that it very similar to that of the Mourning Dove. The only really noticeable difference is that the Road Runner utters its sound five to seven times before pausing whilst the Mourning Dove only utters two to four.
Even though it is a ground dweller, it builds its nest between one and two metres above the ground in a thorn bush or cactus. (The parents must fly to get to the nest). Both parents take care of the young. The young are fed the usual Road Runner fare of large insects, small mammals, lizards, snakes and other birds – especially the young.
If anybody happens to be traveling the drier regions of the US, not necessarily the desert, the odds of seeing a Road Runner are very good. Like many other birds and animals, it often becomes quite tame and readily comes close to human habitation for sources of water such as water hazards on golf courses and water fountains in yards on the outskirts of towns or on farms. At times, several will come very close to humans and can be viewed without the need of binoculars. However a camera is handy. This week’s photo was taken in the Anza Borrego State Park near Borrego Springs in California by – you guessed it – a source of water. In this particular case, the source was a high desert creek. .