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What Is New Mexico’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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greater roadrunner bird

New Mexico is the US’s 36th most populous and fifth-largest state with respect to area. The first perception of New Mexico is arid deserts, diverse landscapes, open grasslands, and high mountains. However, the state is also home to unique animals and birds.

You may know Smokey Bear as New Mexico’s state animal, but what is the state bird? New Mexico’s state bird is the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). It was decided in 1949 and got immense love and respect from Native American nations.

People consider the X-shaped footprint of this bird a holy symbol that avoids evil spirits. In addition, Greater Roadrunners are famous for their speed. This article explores this bird’s habitat, behavior, and diet.

The General Description of Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunners widely live in desert-like areas in the US, including Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and California. These birds are well known among the Native Americans of New Mexico for their speed. In fact, they can run up to 20 miles per hour on foot.

The state of New Mexico legislature declared the roadrunner as the state bird on March 16, 1949. However, until now, no other state has the Greater Roadrunner as its official bird.

You’re sure to meet a roadrunner on your next trip to the state of New Mexico. These ground birds are black and brown with big bodies. Their feathers have white streaks and long, strong legs that help them easily escape predators. Coyotes are their natural predators.

The heads of roadrunners have a large bill and a crest. They also have long, broad tails that stick out from their bodies. The tail has three outer feathers with white tips. The back feathers of these birds are olive or dark grayish brown.

Greater Roadrunners are not like ordinary avians. They weigh between 8–19 ounces, with a height of 22–24 inches. Their wingspan is about 17–24 inches.

a roadrunner

Image Credit: HRHCC, Pixabay

How Do Roadrunners Behave?

Roadrunners are popular with different names among the natives, such as the Chaparral Bird, el Paisano, and el Corre Caminos. These birds prefer living in deserts, grasslands, and brushlands.

You’re most likely to find these birds sitting on low perches to be aware of their predators and look out for their prey. Roadrunners feel comfortable at lower elevations and do well beneath 7,000 feet ground level. Their long yet strong legs help them run faster whenever they are attacked by a predator or catching their prey.

Roadrunners prefer to nest in small trees, bushes, and 3–10-foot cactuses. They build twiggy nests in the interior area of the trees.

These birds sun themselves in the daytime during the winter season. When the outside temperature reaches 68°F, these birds warm themselves in the deserts. On windy days, they live in dense vegetation or inside rock formations. Rocks serve as the natural wind blockers for these birds and keep them warm. Roadrunners also adjust to New Mexico’s hottest temperatures, which hit 120°F during summer. If you intend to find these birds, keep the temperature in mind while looking for them.

These birds run fast, making it impossible for humans to outrun them. However, one human has outclassed a roadrunner. Yes, you guessed it right, it’s Usain Bolt. The winner of the 100-meter dash was recorded at the speed of 27.33 miles per hour by Belgian scientists.

roadrunner bird in the wild

Image Credit: Piqsels

How Do Roadrunners Reproduce?

Roadrunners are solitary birds, but they do search for a partner. Their mating process is quite hard to understand. It starts with the male roadrunners grabbing the female’s attention by holding tempting foods, like lizards, in their beaks. Then, they perform a mating dance that includes whirring, bowing, cooing, opening their wings, and fanning their tail feathers. During mating, the male bird’s eye patch becomes more vibrant.

When mating is performed, the pair will build a large nest in a tree or cactus. The female lays between two to six eggs, which require incubation for approximately 20 days. Both parents have to take turns for incubation purposes.

Chicks hatch after 20 days. After that, these chicks usually start to feed on their own, but their parents tend to feed them for 30 days or more before they become capable of leaving the nest.

Both parents go out hunting and fight the rattlesnakes as a team. One bird distracts the predators by dancing in front of it while the other takes down the reptile from the head and smashes it.

What Do Roadrunners Like to Eat?

Greater roadrunners love to forage insects, small mammals, reptiles, and rodents. However, these birds are accustomed to eating almost anything because of the harsh weather environments of New Mexico.

These birds can even hunt insects and birds like baby quail, hummingbirds, or sparrows. Greater Roadrunners simply walk rapidly to catch their prey and consume them. This is why you can’t lure these birds to your yard with a feeder. Instead, you have to build a feeding ground to attract them.

One thing to notice is that these birds prefer obtaining water from their food. Since they live in deserts and areas with little water, they eat high-water-containing insects to keep themselves hydrated.

roadrunner bird standing in rock

Image Credit: Piqsels

Can You Attract Roadrunners to Your Yard?

Yes, you can. However, the landscaping of your backyard should be suitable for roadrunners. This means your yard should have open, grassy local vegetation areas that allow them to hunt for prey. You can also add scattered bushes to help them hide from predators.

Filling your yard with roadrunners’ prey is also an excellent way to attract these birds. Therefore, you might need to include reptiles, insects, and small mammals in your yard to lure roadrunners in.

Remember that roadrunners avoid living in dense forests or places with large trees. That’s because such areas make it hard for them to run straightaways. So, make sure that your yard doesn’t have big trees.

Exciting Facts About Greater Roadrunners

Some interesting and cool facts about New Mexico’s state bird are:

  • You may have remembered the “beep-beep” sound of roadrunners from the Warner Bros cartoon Roadrunner. Although roadrunners used to get away from Wile E. Coyotes, it’s pretty hard for them to prevent these predators. The coyote can run at a maximum speed of 43 miles an hour, almost twice as fast as roadrunners.
  • Apart from eating water-rich insects, roadrunners adapt to extreme weather conditions in multiple ways. They secrete a concentrated salt solution from glands located in front of their eyes. This uses less water than the excretion performed through the urinary tract or kidneys.
  • Although Greater roadrunners can eat poisonous insects like lizards and scorpions, they generally stay safe from their venomous effects.
  • Until today, the oldest roadrunner recorded was at least 17 years old.
  • In Mexican folklore and Native American legends, roadrunners hold a special, sacred place in belief systems. These birds are appreciated for their speed, bravery, and strength. In addition, their distinctive X-shaped footprint has two toes pointing forward and two backward. These footprints are seen as holy symbols among Pueblo tribes, which use them to ward off bad spirits and evil.
roadrunner bird perching

Image Credit: Piqsels

Are Roadrunners Threatened Birds?

No, roadrunners are not included in the threatened or endangered birds list. Many expert conservationists calculate the Greater Roadrunner’s total breeding population to be 1.1 million. This means that, overall, the species’ conservation status is relatively stable.

Yet, the birds may have some threats in some regions of America, such as California. Like other ground-dwelling birds, human development and industrial construction have contributed considerably to their widespread habitat loss.

According to the popular concern, roadrunners hunt game birds. This is one reason hunters kill roadrunners. Moreover, since these birds run at higher speeds on the ground, they often get hit by cars.

Conclusion

Greater roadrunners are popular and abundant birds among Native Americans. These birds became familiar through Warner Bros’ cartoon, Roadrunner, in which the bird was seen running at high speeds from coyotes. However, that’s not true in reality, as coyotes can run double the speed of roadrunners.

Roadrunners are ground-dwelling birds, so you’re sure to meet one or two on your next trip to New Mexico.


Featured Image Credit: Bryce Alexander, Shutterstock

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.

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