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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Nov 2, 2014
roadrunner2

DianneErskineHellrigelOne of my favorite birds is the roadrunner. Not only did Warner Bros. make the roadrunner a household name, but they also gave it tons of personality.

Nearly everyone who lives in California knows something about the roadrunner. Roadrunners are desert birds, so you can see them almost anywhere in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and Baja. They are large birds that measure up to 24 inches in length, and in addition to eating lizards, small mammals, amphibians, rodents, insects and other birds, the best news of all: They eat rattlesnakes.

In the winter they need to supplement their diet with fruit, seeds and plants. If the prey they catch is too big to swallow, they will smash it against a rock to elongate it, enabling them to swallow it. And yes, they are a member of the cuckoo family.

The feet of the roadrunner are a little strange. They have two toes in front and two toes in the back of each foot. The toes make an “X” in the dirt. Because of this, you cannot tell in which direction the bird was traveling.

roadrunner3Native Americans used the “X” as a sacred symbol to ward off evil. They revered the roadrunner not only for its speed, but also for their courage, endurance and strength.

The “X” arrangement of the toes assists the birds in running – fast. They can run up to 17 mph. I’ll bet you can’t keep up with them. But alas, they cannot fly well. The body is too heavy and the wings are too short and rounded for them to remain airborne for any length of time. If they do fly, it’s usually downhill or when they are in danger.

When they run, they tend to flatten out, stretching their neck low in front and stretching the tail out in back to be used like a rudder. They almost look like little planes, low to the ground. They spend most of their time on the ground, but you might see them perched on a fencepost from time to time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoadrunners are tan, brown and white with black streaks. They blend in well with the desert flora and fauna. They love the hot environment of the arid Southwest. But they have been known to inhabit riparian areas, woodlands, pine forests and hardwood stands. They avoid heavily populated areas and dense forests.

The roadrunner mating ritual is interesting, as well. The male makes an offering of food to the female. Both grasp this offering during copulation. Afterward, the male bows and coos and shows off by flicking his tail in front of his mate. Roadrunners mate for life.

Roadrunners are not endangered and are considered a species of “least concern.”

The following is an Apache legend for you to read to your kids.

 

roadrunner_mapHow Roadrunner Became the Leader of the Birds

This story is about a time when birds were still like people. The birds got together to talk. “The different clans (animals) all have leaders, but we do not,” they said. “We are good for nothing. It would be good for us to choose a leader also. He could then speak for us about our activities,” they said.

So the birds selected the oriole first. They said, “His feathers are very nice.” Because of his feathers, they thought they wanted him to be their leader. They discussed this for some time. “Well, never mind him after all,” they said. “His long clothes are pretty, but he doesn’t speak very much. If he becomes our leader he might not speak well for us in the future.” They put him aside.

roadrunner1Then they chose the mocking bird. But they immediately said, “He is too talkative. He always speaks bad and mocks things. It would not be good for him to become our leader. He might speak even worse for us in the future.” They put him aside to choose again.

The next time they chose a blue jay. “What would it be like for us if we chose him to be the leader?” they asked. “He is also like the other one. He talks too much. It would not be good for him to speak for us. He’s too stubborn, and he also brags about himself. There would be a lot of mocking.” They also set him aside.

“In that case, should it be the roadrunner?” they said. “He’s good for sure. He would be fast for us in running to meetings. And he also talks well. It would be good for us if he became our leader.”

And so, the roadrunner became the leader. Nowadays, roadrunner is the leader of all the birds.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. They used to run through our back yard all the time in Stevenson Ranch

  2. Bill says:

    Great article, Diane
    I have a lot of Roadrunners and Red racers on my property in Acton. Hardly ever do I see a rattlesnake.

    They do not give me much time to enjoy them, though, because both of them are pretty fast

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