AKA: Beep! Beep!
Photographed in Bosque del Apache NWR.
I saw this Roadrunner from afar, parked my truck close to an observation deck but then I couldn't find him. He then appeared on the rail with the mouse and he paused there allowing me time to focus and snap a few images. He then jumped off the deck and began walking down the road. He paused long enough so I could taken this photo. He then continued to a mesquite tree, flew up to a nest and fed a juvenile the mouse. The Greater Roadrunner are one of my top five birds I love watching. If you're ever in Big Bend NP they constantly hunt insects around the Rio Grande Village RV park and store.
A bird born to run, the Greater Roadrunner can outrace a human, kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest. Roadrunners reach two feet from sturdy bill to white tail tip, with a bushy blue-black crest and mottled plumage that blends well with dusty shrubs. As they run, they hold their lean frames nearly parallel to the ground and rudder with their long tails. They have recently extended their range eastward into Missouri and Louisiana.
For a generation of Americans, the familiar “beep, beep” of Warner Brothers’ cartoon Roadrunner was the background sound of Saturday mornings. Despite the cartoon character’s perennial victories over Wile E. Coyote, real-life coyotes present a real danger. The mammals can reach a top speed of 43 miles an hour—more than twice as fast as roadrunners.
Roadrunners have evolved a range of adaptations to deal with the extremes of desert living. Like seabirds, they secrete a solution of highly concentrated salt through a gland just in front of each eye, which uses less water than excreting it via their kidneys and urinary tract. Moisture-rich prey including mammals and reptiles supply them otherwise-scarce water in their diet. Both chicks and adults flutter the unfeathered area beneath the chin (gular fluttering) to dissipate heat.
Greater Roadrunners eat poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, with no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.
Based on banding records, the oldest roadrunner was at least 7 years old.
Roadrunners hold a special place in Native American and Mexican legends and belief systems. The birds were revered for their courage, strength, speed, and endurance. The roadrunner’s distinctive X-shaped footprint—with two toes pointing forward and two backward—are used as sacred symbols by Pueblo tribes to ward off evil. The X shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.
A common sight in cities around the world, Rock Pigeons crowd streets and public squares, living on discarded food and offerings of birdseed. In addition to the typical blue-gray bird with two dark wingbars, you'll often see flocks with plain, spotted, pale, or rusty-red birds in them. Introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600s, city pigeons nest on buildings and window ledges. In the countryside they also nest on barns and grain towers, under bridges, and on natural cliffs.
Photographed in Bosque del Apache NWR
Originally a bird of desert thickets, the White-winged Dove has become a common sight in cities and towns across the southern U.S. When perched, this bird’s unspotted brown upperparts and neat white crescents along the wing distinguish it from the ubiquitous Mourning Dove. In flight, those subdued crescents become flashing white stripes worthy of the bird’s common name. Take a closer look and you’ll see a remarkably colorful face, with bright-orange eyes and blue “eye shadow.”
In the Sonoran Desert, nesting White-winged Doves eat mostly the nectar, pollen, fruit, and seeds of the saguaro cactus. They’re so dependent on the saguaro they time their migration and nesting to match its fruiting schedule. Saguaro seeds are the only small seeds that a White-winged Dove will bother with—possibly because they sit in a large, cup-shaped fruit that makes them easy to eat.
Like other doves and pigeons, White-winged Doves have some unusual abilities. They can suck and swallow water without moving their heads. And they use a secretion from the esophagus, known as crop milk, to feed nestlings. Both parents may consume snails and bone fragments to help their bodies create the nutritious fluid.
Although the White-winged Dove is mostly resident in the Southwest, it is expanding its range, and individuals can be found far afield. White-winged Doves have been seen from Alaska to Ontario, Maine, Newfoundland, and most places in between.
During the twentieth century, habitat loss and heavy hunting led to a serious drop in White-winged Dove populations in Texas—from as many as 12 million to fewer than 1 million by 1939. But with proactive management of hunting and the species’ ability to adapt to urban living, the population rebounded to some 2.2 million by 2001, and its range is still expanding.
In the early 1980s, the singer Stevie Nicks introduced millions of Americans to the White-winged Dove with her song “Edge of Seventeen,” which hit #11 on the Billboard charts.