[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 16
1853 - Sarah Gifford, community leader and wife of Newhall's first railroad station agent, born in England [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Aug 22, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugLast week I saw a roadrunner in my backyard. There was something wrong with this picture. Roadrunners are supposed to live in the desert, in the chaparral, in dry, open spaces with some shrubs here and there – not in a garden with lawns and a sprinkler battling the heat. What was going on?

I asked Dave Stives, our expert at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, and this was his answer: “The desert is dead now. There is no food to be found after such a dry winter, and we are reaching the end of the summer, so the roadrunners are getting hungry and going into more urban areas.”

Maybe the goldfish in my pond have a certain appeal? That was the direction “my” roadrunner was going, while all of the birds in my aviary were flying around in sheer panic.

roadrunner1 Roadrunners eat lizards, insects, carrion from roadkill, eggs, and small rodents that they kill by hitting the base of the neck. They can even catch a hummingbird or a flying insect because they are able to jump straight up. Only 10 percent of their diet consists of plant material, so my birds had good reason to be nervous.

Let’s start with one of the reasons the roadrunner is such a legend, and why cowboys around the campfire have been telling tales, each more colorful than the next, about this bird.

Roadrunners attack snakes, including rattlesnakes, and they are extremely quick. They approach the rattlesnake using their rounded wings for protection, much like a matador’s cape. They grab the snake behind the head or the tail and slam the head many times against the ground with fantastic energy until the snake is dead. It is quite a show. Cowboys respected that and were always protective of roadrunners.

It gets even weirder. The roadrunner swallows the snake whole, but if the snake is large, the bird cannot swallow the whole length. No problem. It will swallow what it can and will continue its daily life with the snake dangling from its beak until the snake slowly gets digested.

A few of my friends commented that the roadrunner was smaller “in person” that they thought it would be. They grew up seeing a purple one on their TV screen, larger than a coyote and screaming, “Beep-beep” in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. It was quite an adjustment when reality set in.

roadrunner3Cartoons aside, it is still a good-sized bird, 18 to 24 inches from tail to beak, and about 15 ounces.

They are a pretty goofy bird to watch, and they are not afraid of humans. They are quite curious, and many have kept hikers company for part of the trail.

When they run, indeed the beak, body and tail are aligned in a straight line, and they usually do run fast, about 15 mph, but they have been reported to run as fast as 26 mph.

It is a zygodactyl bird, which means it has two toes pointing forward and two toes backward. It can fly to escape a predator, but its wings are weak.

The roadrunner has a comical expression with the shaggy crest on its head going up and down. When walking, its tail goes up and down, also, and it has a bouncy step. It always seems very alert and perky, interested in everything around it, and you cannot help but smile when you look at this comical bird. It is part of the cuckoo family.

The roadrunner does not migrate, and a pair is territorial all year. The roadrunner vocalization is a dove- like “coo,” dropping in pitch, and it makes a clattering noise with its beak.

I always love to find these crusty little details: A bird usually “goes to the bathroom” by excreting feces and urine all at once, and this is why you see a white splash on the ground. If you live in a dry area where water is hard to find, it does not make sense to get rid of urine so often. Consequently, the body of the roadrunner reabsorbs water from the feces before extraction.

That is convenient, but what about all the salt that urine carries? No problem. The roadrunner has a nasal gland to eliminate this excess salt.

There are other clever adaptations: If the weather is cold at night, the roadrunner enters a sort of torpor, so it does not use much energy. Its skin is black, so in the cool morning, it fluffs up its feathers and lets the sun warm its skin. That way, its body heats up without having to find food for energy.

roadrunner2Roadrunners are solitary birds, but if they live in pairs, they are monogamous and mate for life. The courtship display is interesting: The male does a little dance in front of the female, parading in front of her with all kinds of different moves, and often with a gift of food in its mouth.

The nest is made of sticks. Both parents gather the nesting material, but usually the female builds the nest herself in a bush or small tree. The female lays between two and 12 eggs over a period of three days, which means the eggs will hatch at different times.

Incubation lasts 18 to 20 days, and both parents have nest duty (dad takes usually the night shift). The first hatchlings are usually stronger than the later ones, and the parents often eat the weaker birds.

In the end, three to four young roadrunners fledge from the nest about 18 days later. For two weeks they remain close to the parents to learn how to hunt, and then they go away to survive on their own.

What are the dangers for a roadrunner? They have been called roadrunners because they are known to race in front of moving vehicles to run to the safety of the bushes on the other side of the road. They are fast but sometimes not fast enough, so they can be traffic casualties.

They can also be killed by hawks, house cats and raccoons; coyotes eat the nestlings and the eggs.

In the winter, if we have severe freezing spells, they might not survive. Right now, the very dry weather has killed much of their food supply in the hills, so they become more adventurous to find food.

The Latin name for the greater roadrunner can be translated as Californian Earth-cuckoo. It is also known as chaparral cock, ground cuckoo and snake killer.

It is a legend unto itself and is part of many a Wild West story. We are lucky to be able to see them running along the road in many places in our valley. Be on the lookout.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.


Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017
It was 10 years ago this fall semester that we opened the Canyon Country Campus on Sierra Highway. We are celebrating a decade of academic excellence and community impact. What a difference a decade makes.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
The Trump budget proposes decreasing funding to the Department of the Interior by $1.5 billion. Trump is calling for more drilling in national parks and monuments. He plans to open BLM land to drilling and fracking.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
We are quickly approaching the culmination of the year-long celebration of our city’s 30th anniversary. It is truly a time to celebrate all the hard work, dedication, perseverance and passion that took our City from being a tiny portion of Los Angeles County to the thriving third largest city in the county.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
This month marks an exciting milestone for the premier arts and entertainment district in Santa Clarita.
Friday, Sep 29, 2017
Kaepernick has never spoken of personally experiencing any negative interactions with the police. Appearances are he had a pretty nice life provided by people with white skin while living in a country that presented him with obvious, mind-boggling opportunities.
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017
Despite its close proximity to the city of Barstow, Rainbow Basin remains virtually undiscovered. It is well worth a visit. Visitors to the area can find scenic opportunities for hiking, rock scrambling, camping, photography, sightseeing and horseback riding.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Newhall School District's next Regular Board Meeting is Tuesday, October 17 at 6:15 p.m., and consideration of Newhall Family Performing Arts Center approvals are on the agenda.
Oct. 17: Newhall School District Considers Newhall Family Theater OK
Master’s and Westmont College needed more than 90 minutes again Saturday to settle a Golden State Athletic Conference showdown in Santa Barbara.
Master’s Men Soccer Players Fall to Westmont in OT
Leaders from the CLWA and NCWC will meet in October, November and December to discuss their merger, which creates the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency as of Jan. 1.
Next Step: Water Agency Officials to Share Merger Details
Master’s women soccer players and coaches alike were adamant after Saturday’s top-10 matchup that Westmont’s 5-2 win wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the score suggests.
Westmont Tops Master’s Women’s Soccer 5-2
Although Friday the 13th is a day generally associated with bad luck, CalArts turned the superstition on its ear as the community celebrated the inauguration of its fourth president, Ravi S. Rajan.
CalArts Inaugurates Ravi S. Rajan as Fourth President
CalArts School of Theater faculty Janie Geiser brings her collage film program "Double Vision" to REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Oct. 16 at 8:30 p.m.
Oct 16: ‘Double Vision’: Recent Films by Janie Geiser at REDCAT
The promising signs the Mustangs showed in their Missouri opener paid off in the evening Friday when Master’s women’s volleyball picked up its first road win of the season.
Master’s Rallies on the Road, Nets Season’s First Win
College of the Canyons' women's volleyball team opened Western State Conference play in style, as the Cougars swept visiting West L.A. College in straight sets.
No. 11 Canyons Sweeps West L.A. at the Cougar Cage
Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country will host a fundraiser for local victims of the October 1 Las Vegas shootings on Saturday, October 28, from noon to 4 p.m.
Oct. 28: Route 66 Hosts Benefit for Las Vegas Shooting Victims
A roundup of the Santa Clarita arts-related events for Oct. 16-20, 2017.
Oct. 16-20: Santa Clarita Arts Upcoming Events
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's October mixer is set for Wednesday, October 18 at Atria Senior Living in Newhall starting at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: SCV Chamber October Mixer at Atria
The Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley will host a series of "Great Futures" tours for local residents in an effort to get the word out about the club's programs and services.
SCV Boys & Girls Club Hosts ‘Great Futures’ Tours
A special meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council, the Planning Commission, the Parks, Recreation and Communnity Services Commission, the Arts Commission, and the Open Space Preservation District Financial Accountability and Audit Panel is set for Tuesday, October 17 at City Hall.
Oct. 17: Harassment, Abusive Conduct Prevention Training for City Officials
The Hart Indians outscored the Canyon Cowboys 35-18 at Harry Welch Stadium Friday, October 13, in the teams' 50th matchup, and Kevin Karzin, president of the SCV Photographers Association, contributed photos from the game.
Photo Gallery: Hart Indians Beat Canyon Cowboys 35-18
Gov. Brown has vetoed a President Donald Trump-inspired proposal that would have required presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the statewide ballot.
Brown Vetoes Bill Requiring Candidates Release Tax Returns
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of bills on Sunday calling for criminal justice reforms, including reduction of penalties for some gun and drug crimes and changes to the Megan's Law sex offender registry.
Brown Signs Bills for Criminal Justice Reforms
1853 - Sarah Gifford, community leader and wife of Newhall's first railroad station agent, born in England [story]
With the stroke of his pen Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the Castaic Lake Water Agency and Newhall County Water District and replaced them with a new water agency for the Santa Clarita Valley.
Brown Signs Wilk Bill Merging SCV Water Agencies
1939 - Second, larger OLPH Catholic Church dedicated on site of first (10th & Walnut, Newhall) [story]
Santa Clarita-based Princess Cruises celebrated the New York premiere of “Born to Dance,” the latest offering from its first-of-its-kind partnership with award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz and famed director/creator Daniel C. Levine.
Princess Cruises Celebrates NY Premiere of ‘Born to Dance’ With Schwartz, Levine
1980 - Phillies beat Royals in Game 1 of World Series; Hart grad Bob Walk is winning pitcher [story]
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored 17 student winners from colleges and universities around the world at the 44th Student Academy Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills Thursday night.
Medalists Revealed at 2017 Student Academy Awards
The Los Angeles Dodgers will play host to the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the 2017 NLCS at Dodger Stadium on Saturday starting at 5:08 p.m.
National League Championships Open at Dodger Stadium Saturday
Santa Clarita ranks No. 5 among Los Angeles County's 88 cities in the assessed value of all taxable real property and business personal property, according to the 2017 Annual Report released by County Assessor Jeffrey Prang today.
Santa Clarita No. 5 Highest Valued City in LA County
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and a coalition of other law enforcement agencies and community organizations will host the 9th Annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, October 16 from 8:25 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Oct. 16: Cyber Crime Symposium for Educators, Parents, Students
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, locals found out what it is like to be a school principal. Plus, there are some great events to head out to this weekend. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Friday, October 13, 2017
Starting Monday night, Oct. 16, the California Department of Transportation will paint new temporary lanes on a section of Interstate 5 aka the Golden State Freeway in and near the city of Santa Clarita.
New Temporary Lanes Coming Monday on Interstate 5 in SCV
The William S. Hart Union High School District is looking for someone to become a personnel commissioner to serve a three-year term beginning December 1, 2017.
Hart District Seeks Personnel Commissioner for Classified Employees
The College of the Canyons baseball program and Playa Vista Orioles youth baseball organization will host a free instructional clinic for players ages 11-14 at COC's Cougar Field in Valencia on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Oct. 21: COC Baseball, Playa Vista Orioles Youth Classic
An alumna of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley, Cinthya Medrano, is the first recipient of a Duane R. Harte Memorial Scholarship.
Cinthya Medrano Earns First Duane R. Harte Memorial Scholarship
The non-profit Santa Clarita Coalition has created a Facebook page to aid the Evans family after the mother of six children died in a car crash on Golden Valley Road.
Facebook Page Created to Aid Evans Family
The Golden State Gateway Coalition, a non-profit transportation education and advocacy organization based in Santa Clarita, has published the fall 2017 edition of its newsletter, "Interchange."
Golden State Gateway Coalition Issues Fall 2017 Newsletter
The Castaic Lake Water Agency's Budget and Rates Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, October 17 at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 17: CLWA Budget and Rates Committee Meeting
A "Tip-a-Cop" fundraiser for the Special Olympics Santa Clarita Valley is set for the Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews restaurant in Valencia on Thursday, October 19, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Oct. 19: Tip-a-Cop at Red Robin for Special Olympics SCV
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak on Friday, and the L.A. County Department of Public Health is on the case.
Governor Brown Declares Statewide Hepatitis A Outbreak
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will address issues related to homelessness and the Hepatitis A outbreak among other agenda items in their meeting Tuesday, October 17 starting at 9 a.m.
Oct. 17: Homelessness, Hepatitis A on Supes’ Meeting Agenda