Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 10, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio, in the Central Valley 8 kms east of Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 16° 18'N, LONG. -92° 28'

When you watch a roadrunner foraging for lizards you think, "He's behaving just like an American Robin looking for earthworms in a suburban mowed lawn..."

The big, lanky bird runs fast for a couple of seconds, stops five or six seconds with his head held high and an intense look on his face, then runs for another couple of seconds, stops once more looking hard at the ground before him, and on and on. It's something how such unrelated, physically dissimilar birds can end up acting the very same.

In the US's arid Southwest there's just one roadrunner species, simply called Roadrunner in many field guides. It's Geococcyx californianus, and it extends south into central Mexico. Here farther south we have a second species, Geococcyx velox. The northern one is larger, up to 24 inches long (61 cm), and is often referred to as the Greater Roadrunner, while our smaller southern species, growing to only 20 inches (50.5 cm), is the Lesser.

It's typical that all you see of a roadrunner is a blur when he darts across the road before you, looking almost as much like a big lizard as a bird. If you're lucky enough to see one foraging, and that's when you have to admire the bird's alertness, streamline form, cocky crest and the bold, dark-brown streaking on a pale tan body. The ones I'm seeing here show much more intense pale blue spots behind the eyes than is shown in the field guides.

Sometimes you hear roadrunners more than see them. Both species make a slowing-down, descending series of 3-7 low, moaning coos, ooooah, ooooah, ooooah... almost dove-like, but louder.

If all you know of cuckoos is the North's Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, you might be surprised that roadrunners are full-fledged members of the Cuckoo Family, the Cuculidae. However, if you're familiar with our anis, which also are members of the Cuckoo Family, you know that the family is a diverse looking one.

A traveling salesman on a bus once told me about a fellow who put some roadrunner eggs beneath his old hen. The baby roadrunner grew up behaving just like a chicken, until the day he ran off.