Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

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(Fig. 01)

(Fig. 02)

(Fig. 03)
Picture Notes: The roadrunner is probably the most famous bird in the Sonoran Desert. Often trotting up close to peer at humans, raising and lowering its mop of a shaggy crest, flipping its long tail about expressively, it can look undeniably zany or clown-like. Over the past couple of years I have had dozens of sightings of these fascinating creatures. These latest pictures of a Greater Roadrunner (Figs. 01 & 02) were captured on 07/31/15 on a hike inside the Las Vegas Sunset Park. Even should they were captured at a handheld, 480mm zoom setting, I was surprised at how well they came out.

The pictures in (Figs. 03 & 04), were captured on 05/16/2013 near the US-95 interchange for the Paiute Tribe’s Snow Mountain Indian Reservation, just north of Vegas. I had to chase this fella for several hundred feet before he stopped long enough for me to be able to capture a shot with his early morning breakfast catch. Due to their size and long beaks, it is obvious that both of these were Greater Roadrunners.

On 01/19/2012, while hiking along Lakeshore Drive near Lake Mead, the road runner in (Fig. 05) ran across my path and down the side of a deep wash. After hiking down the wash in pursuit and chasing him for about ten minutes, I finally found him hiding behind a bush.

The next picture (Fig. 07), was taken on 11/16/2010 in the parking lot of our apartment complex. One of my neighbors called and alerted me to his presence, so I grabbed my camera and headed outside. There he was sitting on the wall that separates our property from the next. Based upon his size shorter bill and legs, it appears that he may be the Lessor Roadrunner. Over our ten years here, we have spotted these guys roaming the property on numerous occasions, usually without a camera.

The final pictures, the diptych in (Fig. 08) was taken on 07/04/2013 while we were picking some pears and peaches at the Gilcrease Orchard, a sixty acre farm on the north side of Las Vegas. 
(Fig. 04)
Description: Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), a.k.a. Chaparral Bird or Chaparral Cock, Ground Cuckoo, and Sake Killer, is a large ground dwelling, black-and-white, mottled bird with a distinctive head crest, red skin behind the eyes, blue along the front of the neck and belly, and a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.The upper body is mostly brown with black streaks and sometimes pink spots. The neck and upper breast are white or pale brown with dark brown streaks, and the belly is white. A crest of brown feathers sticks up on the head, and a bare patch of orange and blue skin lies behind each eye; the blue is replaced by white in adult males (except the blue adjacent to the eye), and the orange (to the rear) is often hidden by feathers. It has long stout legs, strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill. (The Lesser Roadrunner (Geococcyx velox) resembles the Greater Roadrunner in appearance and habit but is smaller and has a significantly shorter bill.) 

It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It has a 17–24 inch wingspan, weighs between 7.8–19.0 ounces, and stands around 9.8–12 inches tall, making it the largest North American Cuckoo. The Cuckoo family (Cuculidae), is characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind. When the roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short, rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers walking or running. It can achieve speeds of up to 17 miles per hour, usually with a clownish gait. There have been reported cases where roadrunners have run as fast as 26 miles per hour, the fastest running speed ever clocked for a flying bird, although it is not as fast as the flightless Ostrich. The roadrunner makes a series of 6 to 8, low, dovelike coos dropping in pitch, as well as a clattering sound by rolling mandibles together.

Its carnivorous habits coupled with an extreme quickness that allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair, provides it with a large supply of very moist food. Feeding almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and other birds. (the Lesser Roadrunner eats seeds, fruit, small reptiles, frogs and insects.) Using its wings like a matador's cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail and cracks it like a whip, repeatedly slamming its head against the ground until its dead. It then swallows its prey whole, head first, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests. Up to 10 % of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of the year. It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion. It has a nasal gland that eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds. It reduces its activity by 50% during the heat of midday. Its primary habit is open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry brush, chaparral or other desert scrub in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Upon the arrival of spring, the male roadrunner, in addition to acquiring food for himself, offers choice morsels to a female as an inducement to mating. He usually dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly. The pair bond in this species may be permanent; pairs are territorial all year. Though they both collect small sticks for building a shallow, saucer-like nest, it is the female who actually constructs it in a bush, cactus or small tree. She then lays from 2 to 12 white eggs over a period of 3 days, which results in staggered hatching. Incubation is from 18-20 days. The hatchlings remain near the adults for up to 2 weeks before dispersing to the surrounding desert.

As quick as they are, a roadrunners life still has its dangers. Roadrunners are occasionally preyed upon by hawks, raccoons, rat snakes, bullsnakes, skunks, and coyotes that eat nestlings and eggs. During the winter months, many succumb to freezing weather.
(Fig. 05)
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