Cochise County Birds: The Greater Roadrunner, Califorinianus Geococcyx


The red and blue patches begin to show as this guy chases a cool chick…or maybe those are HER patches. There’s no easy way to tell the genders apart when it comes to greater roadrunners.

The roadrunners around here (greater roadrunner species, aka Geococcyx californianus, which translates as “California Earth-Cuckoo”) were mighty shy for the first couple of years after our arrival.

That could have been due to the heavy northbound foot traffic aka illegal immigration, which translates as Mexicanus Bordercrossius.  There was certainly enough of that on this acreage situated one mile north of the border.  It’s settled down some now, at least for the moment.

And my wife’s Beep! Beep! friend has come to call.  Again…and again…and again.


August 21, 2012.  A roadrunner dashed past the window above the camp stove at around 2:00 p.m.  I just happened to catch a flash of red, white, and blue, the patriotic and very colorful sidebar patch behind the bird’s eye.  We know (from reading other articles about Geococcus Californianus) that these patches “flash” noticeably at need such as a diversion to draw predators away from the nest.

Today, I was about to learn something else through direct observation:  The roadrunners also use these patches to flirt.  There turned out to be not one but two of the crazy cacklers, chortle-running after each other and taking turns doing it.

Getting great photos of their courting turned out to be pretty much impossible.  They were too fast, and they kept too far apart.  RRA (Roadrunner A) would run like the wind, chased merrily by RRB (Roadrunner B)…and then they would suddenly reverse course, with RRB chasing after RRA.  That there was a code to all this seemed obvious.  Most of the time, they stayed at least 15 feet (or so) apart from each other.

The one exception being when they had a mesquite tree between them.  At  those times, they’d get closer, though never on the same side of the tree.

To the left and right of the mesquite tree, two greater roadrunners play the courting game.

This living legend has unbelievable number of “looks” it can give  the camera.  The range of expressions and/or bodily contortions available to most of our feathered friends is somewhat limited, but not so with the Earth-Cuckoo.

In a word, these Souls are amazingly athletic.

This one cracks me up!

In addition to being able to move in literally any direction instantly and to run at 15 miles per hour, their “signal machinery” is extremely impressive.  The crest feathers go up and down.  The red and blue patches on either end of the white patch behind the eye appear in blazing color or disappear entirely.  The tail flicks from fully erect to dragging the ground or to the left or right.  Breast feathers lie flat or puff up to make the Geococcus Californianus look like nothing so much as a goosed chicken.

In a word:  Wow.

The specimens I’ve watched “puff up” seem to do that when pecking down into their own feathers.  Looks like a parasite hunting expedition, or perhaps it could be a weird preening trigger.  The experts probably know the answer.  I just know clicking the camera shutter is a real hoot when they’re in this mode.

Not that I’d do much better if I were stuck with feathers instead of fingers.

Still, doesn’t it look rather like this one (photos below) is checking to make sure no one is watching…then rearranging feathers to cover a bald spot…then declaring himself/herself APA, Absolutely Puffed-out Awesome?

Puff the magic roadrunner.

Greater roadrunners are serious, mean, down-to-business hardcore predators.  If food is short, the grownups sometimes even feed the smaller, weaker hatchlings to the bigger, sturdier babies.  Talk about survival of the fittest!

Away from the nest, they pretty much eat everything that doesn’t eat them.

But they have such fun doing it!  It’s impossible to watch these remarkable feathered folk in action without realizing they enjoy life in a way most of us mere humans can only envy. And in the process, they make a few of us smile as well.

There are nearly a thousand roadrunner snapshots left from which to choose.  Here’s one.


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