Watch a Real Life Roadrunner

//

When most of us hear the word "roadrunner," Wile E. Coyote and his crazy Acme cartoon schemes come to mind. But have you ever see a real life roadrunner?

(Image: Bernard Gagnon)

Please read on to see the roadrunner in action and to find out the latest news about this famous bird.

From Texas A&M AgriLife Communications:

<<Wile E. Coyote might not have been able to catch up with the

roadrunner on the Saturday morning cartoons, but one Texas AgriLife

Research scientist has had no problems.

Dr. Dean Ransom,

AgriLife Research wildlife ecologist in Vernon, has conducted a study

of the roadrunner's ecology and habitat for the past four years. Using

radio telemetry and studying more than 50 nests, he and his staff have

researched home range, habitat use, nesting ecology and dispersal of

young since 2006.

The roadrunner is fairly common across the

southwestern U.S., but very little is known about the bird, Ransom

said. As their name suggests, roadrunners spend most of their time

walking and running along the ground, but are capable of flight when

pressured.

"It's not graceful, but it works," he said.

Roadrunner

behavior is somewhat unique, Ransom said. They are monogamous and

likely mate for life. Also, the male helps in all facets of nesting and

feeding the young, including incubating the eggs at night.

Nesting

activity begins in early April, he said. The nest typically is located

in a tree or shrub, about 3-5 feet high, and usually in dense brush not

far from an edge, such as a fence line or ranch road.

Such nest

placement allows ease of movement to and from the nest, quick escape

from predators and open areas to hunt and forage for lizards and snakes

that bask in the bare dirt, Ransom said.

Most nests are well

hidden and difficult to find, he said. They are generally in the crook

of a large single-trunk tree, using the main branch of the trunk for

stability.

The nest is a flat-platformed shallow bowl with the

outer rim lined with fairly large twigs and resembles a large

mockingbird nest.

Roadrunners lay about four eggs on average

per nest, but the clutch size can range as high as 10, Ransom said. In

the larger clutches, many of the young don't survive and older

nestlings have been documented eating their younger siblings.

"We

used nest cameras to document what the parents were feeding their

young," he said. "The diet is based solidly on reptiles, especially

Texas horned lizards. We have also seen mice, snakes, grasshoppers and

a tarantula, and importantly, no birds, particularly bobwhite quail."

Some

landowners have expressed concern that roadrunners prey on bobwhite

quail, but Ransom said, "I seriously doubt roadrunners prey on very

many quail; ecologically, quail are not efficient prey for a generalist

and opportunistic predator like roadrunners.

"But we will

continue watching and recording, just to be thorough," he said.

"Likely, that is a case where perception becomes reality, and the

perception is based on a lack of understanding."

Incubation

begins with the first egg laid, which results in an asynchronous hatch

with chicks of various sizes in the same nest, he said. Incubation

takes about 20 days, and the young stay in the nest about 20 days.

After

several months on their own, the young usually disperse to establish

their own home range, Ransom said. "Dispersal distances are large. We

have documented them traveling as much as 6 miles away from their natal

home range."

After the young have left the nest and are on

their own, both parents become more independent of one another,

especially in the winter, Ransom said.

"I believe, however,

that both members of a mated pair stay in contact with one another

throughout the year through their vocalizations," he said. "In so

doing, it facilitates an efficient renewing of the pair bond in the

spring."

The home range of roadrunners can be quite large for a

bird of its size, Ransom said. On average, male and female range sizes

are about 200 acres and tend to be located near sizeable tracts of

woody cover. Range sizes shrink by 50 percent to 60 percent during the

winter.

A little harder to measure is the size of a

roadrunner's territory, he said. Smaller than the home range, a

territory is actively defended against intruders, including other

roadrunners.

"We witnessed a five-bird brawl that lasted about 90 minutes in 2006…ultimately the resident pair was triumphant," Ransom said.

The

aggressive behavior toward intruding birds indicates they are defending

territories for some reason – usually an important limiting resource

such as food or nest site – but he said they are not sure yet what the

basis of that territory is. "I doubt that its food related, but we will

pursue that aspect in the next phase of our study."

"One of the

more complex questions we're interested in is vegetation structure and

fragmentation effects on survival and reproduction, especially the

cascading effects on vegetation structure resulting from brush-control

practices," Ransom said. "Landscape effects and fragmentation are a

major theme in ecology right now, and rightly so."

Land use

affects wildlife behavior through its impact on vegetation structure,

he said, adding, "We do know that brush control will cause them to

abandon their home ranges and move elsewhere."

Ransom said he will continue to research roadrunner behavior and habitat.

"Now

that we have laid the foundation of basic research, we can begin to

formulate larger more in-depth questions involving multiple study sites

in different environments," he said.>>

Tags Animals
DISCOVERYnewsletter
 
Invalid Email