Archive for the ‘Chuck’ Category

Broken Beak

October 1, 2008

Here is a photo of Chuck’s broken lower beak.  So far there is no sign that it is growing back.  Which means a long winter of feeding him lots of mice, which are not cheap when you have to buy frozen ones. We’re setting up a fund.  Donations gleefully accepted, either of cash or recently dead mice.

Broken Beak

Broken Beak

Chuck’s Calamity

September 16, 2008

As you walk down the muddy road of life you learn all sorts of things.  Some of the things you learn, you really didn’t want to know.

For instance, we lived many decades without knowing that you can go to your local pet store and buy frozen mice.  Frozen dead mice. “Not for human consumption,” says the package in what must be one of history’s most unnecessary warnings.

We didn’t really want to know about frozen mice but Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner, needed for us to know so we learned.

Chuck, about whom we have written many times, showed up here last week with part of his lower beak broken and dangling by a thread.  The broken part later fell off.  But he was unable to eat for a day or so and remains unable to hunt for himself. He couldn’t even pick up the tidbits of hamburger we customarily give him. Besides, a roadrunner who ate only hamburger would soon die of malnutrition anyway.  They need a varied diet which includes the bones, hair, blood, and internal organs of their prey.  Plus that is where they get most of their water, although roadrunners, adapted to desert living, don’t need much water.

So we learned about frozen mice.  We thaw them and give him one and sometimes two a day.  He usually can pick one up on the second or third try, although he seemed a little befuddled the first time.  We don’t think he’d ever seen a white mouse before. We’ve also improved the hamburger; now he gets raw flank steak. So far, we think he is doing OK but it may be touch and go for awhile.  We’ll keep you posted.

And we’ll keep buying frozen mice.

A New Baby Roadrunner

July 7, 2008

Nature is abundant. As an eloquent friend says, it is “wildly resilient.” Or as they used to say in France, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” (Later, they got rid of the King so the metaphor only goes so far. Political systems don’t last as long as evolution.)

We lost a baby roadrunner last week. Yesterday, Nature brought us another. We don’t mean “us” in the parochial sense. Nature brought the world, of which we are all a part, another roadrunner because evolution requires abundance of all life forms and because life is wildly resilient. It doesn’t matter whether you are a human being or a roadrunner, “There is a great River of Life flowing through the Cosmos and we are not separate from it.”

Join us for a quick sip from the River. (Click for enlargements)

Chuck and Baby

Chuck and Baby




The Mighty Hunter

May 4, 2008

Hunters often return to the same place where they’ve had success before. Roadrunners are skilled hunters. We’ve discussed before Dan True and his movie of a roadrunner killing a rattlesnake. And we’ve shown you one eating a field mouse. Last time we showed you photos of him stalking in a bush in our backyard. As we’ve noted, we’re not sure how Chuck, our Greater Roadrunner, found the back yard and its bird feeders but he did. Yesterday, we didn’t see him in the bush. Neither did the House Finch which you see in today’s photos.

To a Roadrunner, a bird in the beak is worth two in the bush.

Because nature can be pretty raw, we are posting only the thumbnails. To see the photos at normal size, all you need do is click on the thumbnail.

In the first shot, Chuck has already caught the finch and is throwing it to the ground. The finch is probably already dead in this photo.

In this photo, Chuck is plucking his catch. Interestingly, he did not pick off all the feathers, as a falcon or hawk might, just the larger wing feathers.

Raodrunner plucking its kill

In this shot, he has finished plucking. We were wondering at this point whether he would take the finch home to his nestlings or dine on the bird himself.

Finch prepared for dinner

This photo was taken about one second before the finch was down the hatch. This was Chuck’s dinner.
Down the Hatch

Here we have a smug, self-satisfied bird. Note the size of his throat.
Full Crop

After such a fine meal, all the authorities consider it best to have a nice dust bath.

Roadrunner Dust Bath


We also have photos of Chuck eating a mouse.

A Bird in the Bush

May 2, 2008

“A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.” No, that’s not how it goes.  “Two birds in the bush are worth one in the hand?”  No, that’s not it either.  How about, “two birds in the hand are worth one in the bush? “ Nope.  That’s wrong too. . . .Don’t tell me, I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, look at this photo.
Greater Raodrunner

There is a bird in that bush.  Can you see it?

We try to arrange our bird feeding stations around the back yard away from the usual urban predators, especially house cats.  We also insure that the feeders hang high enough that the dogs, should they suddenly become interested in birds — as dogs sometimes do — can’t jump up and reach a bird on a feeder.  Mainly though the dogs are happy with the left-overs underneath the feeders and not interested in the birds themselves.

But some predators come no matter what we do.  The occasional hawk flies in and surveys the cafeteria.  Racoons are not unheard of.  And that bird in the bush in the photo.  Have you found it yet?  It is well-camouflaged, as a House Sparrow discovered just moments after the photo was snapped.  “Snapped” was what happened to the sparrow’s neck.  The bird in the bush agreed with Shakespeare, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

Here is the photo enlarged.

Yes.  That is Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner.  Chuck and Chuckina still come for hamburger bits on the front wall but they also visit the back yard.  We think they have babies. We’ve watched them collect two or three bits of hamburger in their beaks and run off down the street without eating the hamburger first.  This is new behavior.  Usually they just clack at us and eat the hamburger.  We conclude from this that they are feeding babies, although we have not found their nest and can’t be sure.

One bird in the bush is . . . deadly to sparrows.


March 14, 2008

Spring is coming to the Northern Hemisphere. We know this for three reasons. First, the great northward migration has begun and, in Europe, begun early. The first Barn Swallows arrived in Cyprus in early January and the first White Stork in Poland the first day of February. These birds, arriving from Africa, are taking quite a chance getting to Europe this early. It is still winter, especially in Northern Europe. Here is the news story.

White Stork

We also know that Spring is coming because we saw Chuck, our Greater Roadrunner and his lady friend today. Chuck had a leaf in his mouth and declined hamburger to fly off with the leaf which we think must mean the two of them are working on their nest. Or perhaps they are remembering Neruda, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

Finally, it must be Spring because we put out the hummingbird feeders. We know it should be at least another two weeks before any arrive. No matter. We’re ready should they decide to come earlier. A weather system is predicted for the weekend with winds blowing from the south so it is possible a few will grab a ride on those winds.


Thanks to Mindaugas Urbonas for the photo of the White Storks.

Roadrunner Eating Mouse

February 23, 2008


If you love cute little mice, it is perhaps best not to view the photos at the bottom of this post. If you don’t mind nature in the raw, click on the links to see the photographs.


Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner about whom we have written before, had a meal on our fence the other day. It was not the usual bits of hamburger we leave out for him; it was a mouse. As you can see from the photographs, he swallowed it whole. Roadrunners are omnivorous little cuckoos — which is to say they will eat about anything they can get their beaks on — and obviously can down a large meal at once.

No wonder Wily E. Coyote is always after the roadrunner in the cartoons. The little speedsters are full of organic food. Eating one would give a coyote all its basic food groups in a single meal. Of course, coyotes seldom catch roadrunners. Roadrunners, on the other hand, catch lots of birds. Like Peregrine Falcons, roadrunners first pluck all the feathers out of their avian cousins before swallowing them whole. Swallowing their prey whole is their favored method of eating. Eating Horned Lizards whole can be hazardous though so they turn them upside down and swallow them head first so the spines don’t catch in their throats.

Greater Roadrunners eat a lot. Scientists studied the dining habits of a New Mexico roadrunner one winter. Here is what the bird ate in one day:

497 darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae), 2 lady beetles (Coccinellidae), 5 milkweed bugs (Lygaeidae), 5 grasshoppers (Locustidae), 3 assassin flies (Asilidae), 4 butterfly larva (Lepidoptera; Geluso 1970).

Around our house, that bird would have also had a few bites of hamburger and maybe an entire mouse. Their stomachs can hold up to 40 cubic centimeters of food at a time. Despite what that one New Mexico roadrunner ate, they are more likely to eat birds, fruits and seeds in the winter simply because of availability. Their calorie needs are probably lower in the winter because of their ability to lower their body temperatures during cold nights. (From about 40 degrees centigrade to 34 degrees.)

Chuck has a friend around now. More about her in a later post.





UPDATE: Mice are not all that Greater Roadrunners eat.  They eat birds as well.

Chuck Plays with His Food

November 4, 2007

Chuck has become a demanding roadrunner.  Once each morning and once each afternoon he shows up on our fence and resolutely hangs out until one of us notices and brings him his hamburger.  He likes to play with his food as you can see.


He also is becoming rather vain, posing for his portrait whenever asked.


Roadrunner Training

October 9, 2007

When it comes to training birds and animals it is a fair question to ask, “Who is the trainer and who is the trainee?” As an example we tender some more photographs of Chuck, the neighborhood Greater Roadrunner. Click on the photographs to see larger versions. oct-2007-1-of-7.jpg

In the first photograph you see the view taken from our front door. It takes only a bit of anthropomorphic thought to imagine that Chuck’s stare indicates displeasure. He has arrived for his morning hamburger and it is not on the fence.oct-2007-5-of-7.jpg

In the second photo, well trained, we approach with hamburger in hand. Now Chuck could easily be affecting dispassionate disinterest; however, as you see in photographs three and four, he was ready to eat.

Chuck never eats all the hamburger at once. He returns from time to time during the day for another morsel.oct-2007-7-of-7.jpg He seems confident that it will be there. If there are any left overs at the close of day, we remove them. Cats do skulk about the neighborhood at night and we choose not to attract them. See our post here explaining why.oct-2007-6-of-7.jpg

Chuck the Greater Roadrunner Returns

August 13, 2007

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.

Another mystery is that all but one of our earlier entries and photographs of Chuck have disappeared from the blog.  We’ll try to find out what happened.  In the meantime, here is his portrait.chuck-2007-1.jpg

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)

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