Monday, July 25, 2011

Meet the Real Roadrunner

Due to the popular cartoon, the roadrunner is a bird we’re all at least vaguely familiar with. In the cartoon the roadrunner uses his superior speed to escape the ever-resourceful but hapless Wile. E. Coyote with hilarious results. However the real bird is an animal that is relatively unknown outside of the American southwest and Mexico.

Greater Roadrunner
There are two extant roadrunner species; the greater roadrunner of the southwestern United States and the lesser roadrunner of Mexico and Central America. Both are similar in appearance with the lesser roadrunner being smaller in size with a shorter bill. Most are between 18 and 24 inches long, with a large portion of their bodies made up of their long tails. Roadrunners are actually members of the cuckoo family, and although primarily a ground-dwelling bird are capable of flight.

These birds get their name from their habit of running in front of cars and suddenly darting off into the scrub. Although they are the fastest runners of any flying bird, they’re really not that quick. The greater roadrunner can only reach a top speed of 26mph. Compare this with the 43mph sprint speed of a coyote and it’s obvious that cartoon logic just doesn’t hold up.

Roadrunners hunt for insects and lizards by foraging on the ground or by leaping to catch them in the air. Their main predators are hawks, falcons and domestic cats. Although not as common, coyotes (sans Acme Earthquake Pills) do hunt roadrunners on occasion. In recent years the greater roadrunner has expanded its range north and east into the southern American plains. As is often the case with common animals, urban sprawl and higher road traffic is the number one danger facing the roadrunner.

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