Warner

Warner on our front patio. He seems to be a young roadrunner. Notice the downy feathers?

This is our newly adopted child. Or maybe he adopted us. All I know is that he always wants food. We named him Warner, after the Warner Brothers cartoon roadrunner.

Warner seems to be a young roadrunner, judging by his smaller than normal size and abundance of downy feathers.

It’s nearly impossible to gauge the gender of a roadrunner, but we assume he’s a male. That’s because all roadrunners have a bare patch of skin behind their eyes, and in some that patch is white, while in others it’s blue. Some ornithologists think the white may indicate male, and the blue may indicate female. This hasn’t been proven yet, but Warner has a white patch, so we’re assuming he’s a dude.

This speedy bird follows us around when we’re out in our front yard, begging for a handout while clattering his beak. When we’re inside he hops up on a table next to our livingroom window and stares forlornly at us, hoping for a sympathy treat. If we don’t notice him, he pecks on the window pane to get our attention.

He’s an omnivore, like all roadrunners, so he’ll eat just about anything. But meat is preferred. We feed him rolled up, raw hamburger balls, which are hastily gobbled up whole. Roadrunners also love to eat lizards and snakes, and with their speed, they’re particularly good at killing rattlesnakes. My wife is ophidiophobic, so I think that’s what she likes best about Warner.

Roadrunners prefer to run, but they can fly if they need to, in order to escape a predator. A roadrunner’s top speed is generally about 20 mph, although some have been clocked at up to 27 mph.

Coyotes, on the other hand, can sprint up to 45 miles per hour, over about a quarter mile stretch. Unfortunately, rather than use their superior speed, coyotes try to outsmart roadrunners. The inevitable result is that they find themselves smashed against paintings of caves, ineffectually shielding themselves with small parasols, from large falling rocks, or free falling into unbelievably deep chasms.

Roadrunners are cuckoo. Literally. They are members of the cuckoo family, and are known as ground cuckoos, of the genus Geococcyx. There are only two species of roadrunners, and these are the Greater Roadrunner, or Geococcyx californianus, and the Lesser Roadrunner, or Geococcyx velox. Warner is a Greater Roadrunner, and we do think he’s pretty great.

The Greater Roadrunner can be found in a southerly range that stretches from California, all the way east to Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and south into Mexico. The Lesser Roadrunner, which is a little smaller and more colorful than the Greater, can be found in Mexico and Central America.

Roadrunners mate for life, and make their nests about three to 10 feet up, in trees, bushes, and cacti. We haven’t seen any other roadrunners around Warner, so it seems likely he hasn’t found a mate yet. But when he does, it will be interesting to see if she has blue behind her eyes.

Roadrunners don’t go beep-beep. Rather, they make a clattering sound with their beaks. They also make a descending cooing call, like a dove, though I haven’t yet heard this from Warner.

They have built in solar heaters, which consists of black skin on their backs. When they need to warm up, they fluff up their back feathers to expose their black skin to the sun.

Their tracks are X-shaped, which keeps you from knowing which direction this bird has traveled. Indian lore has it that this keeps evil spirits from being able to follow them. Cartoon lore has it that this keeps coyotes from following them.

Indians also believe that it’s good luck to see a roadrunner. We think so. And we hope it’s even better luck to adopt one.

Here’s a video of Warner in action. If you turn up the volume, you may be able to hear his beak-clattering sound.

And if you’re in the mood for a roadrunner cartoon, check out this recent post from Vic, at Cosmic Observation.

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