After a hiatus of several months, Chuck the Roadrunner returned this morning. Why he left, where he went and what he did are all mysteries and one of the reasons why birding and other nature related activities are so rewarding. The questions are mostly obvious, the answers less so. The most likely answer to this mystery was that he and his mate chose a nesting site further away from our house this year than last. Both male and female Greater Roadrunners incubate eggs and feed and protect their young. Greater Roadrunners defend specific territories and do not migrate, so he should be with us until next Spring.
The chick-rearing season lasts several months and Chuck has been gone for several months. Completely out of hamburger, we tried a few pieces of cooked chicken to reward him for returning but he wasn’t having any. He just sat on the fence and stared at us. The message was clear and there is now hamburger on the fence for him to supplement his diet.
Not that he needs any human intervention for his diet. Roadrunners are omnivores which is just a polite way of saying that they will eat anything they can get their beaks on. They eat snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, insects, birds, and rodents and some seeds and berries when they can get them. Chuck hides in a bush near one of our backyard bird feeders and leaps out at sparrows and finches. We have also seen attempted Hummingbird ambushes but never a successful one. When he is here, the backyard is kept clean of lizards. One of us grew up watching a local weatherman who had wonderful footage of a roadrunner killing a three-foot rattlesnake. By the time the battle was over you actually felt a little sorry for the rattlesnake.
Once you had to feel sorry for Roadrunners. Humans tried to assassinate the entire species in the early Twentieth Century. Federal and state governments arranged for Roadrunner kills because, it was thought, Roadrunners were responsible for drastic declines in Quail populations which was irritating for hunters of Quail. The idea was wrong. Roadrunners follow quail coveys, probably because the quail flush large insects out of the underbrush and grass through which they move. They hardly ever kill a quail or eat a quail egg. They just follow the Quail for the insects the coveys stir up. The real culprit in the decline of the Quail population was hunting and habitat destruction committed by the Roadrunner killers. Wonderfully, both the Quail and the Greater Roadrunners have thus far survived their contact with Homo Sapiens Sapiens. (Please note that we have omitted any reference to the sitting vice-president in this paragraph about Quail hunters. Too much like a “sitting duck.”)
By the way, there is a Lesser Roadrunner. It lives in Mexico and Central America and is smaller than the Greater Roadrunner.
Read more about Greater Roadrunners at the Cornell Birds of North America site.(Membership required)