The road runner is a large ground bird about 24 inches long with a large beak, a tail longer than the head and body, and a large crest on the head. These are birds of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. They occur in central and southern New Mexico and the Audubon Society reports that the range is extending northward in New Mexico, as well as into Colorado, Oklahoma, northern Arizona, and into Nevada and Utah. The population typically experiences an annual reduction in the northern parts of the range during severe winters and is thought to be undergoing a longterm decline in California.
Road runners chase down their prey of lizards, snakes, small rodents, as well as insects and other arthropods, reaching speeds of 15-20 miles per hour. They are able to kill and eat rattlesnakes, attacking the head and holding it in the beak while they pound the snake against a rock to kill it. They also consume some fruits and seeds. While spending most of their time on the ground, they are able to fly for short distances.
Road runners probably mate for life and have a complex mating ritual, involving running, bowing, and wing displays, and also giving of simple gifts, like sticks or other natural objects, to the partner. They construct nests above the ground, at low levels in shrubs, trees, or cactus, lining the stick nest with softer materials. The male incubates the eggs along with the female and up to six chicks leave the nest after about three weeks, but are still fed by the parents for another month or so.
As an adaptation to dry environments, road runners are able to conserve water by excreting nitrogenous wastes through a facial gland near the eye rather than by urination. They also derive needed water from the bodies of prey, reducing the dependency on free water. Road runners have been known to live up to seven years.
Photos taken in Moriarty, using Nikon P510 camera. The bird in this photo has a broken left leg but it was still able to get around with some difficulty. I observed this bird active in my neighborhood over the course of a couple of weeks.
James Taulman is a semi-retired research wildlife biologist, having worked with the U.S. Forest Service research branch and taught zoology, ecology and other courses in several university positions. He is currently living in the East Mountains, and explores natural areas observing native wildlife and conducting independent research projects.