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
"It's not graceful, but it works," he said.
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.
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.
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
The nest is a flat-platformed shallow bowl with the
outer rim lined with fairly large twigs and resembles a large
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.
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."
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."
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.
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
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
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
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
"We witnessed a five-bird brawl that lasted about 90 minutes in 2006…ultimately the resident pair was triumphant," Ransom said.
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."
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.
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.>>