If you grew up outside of New Mexico, it’s likely that you never saw a roadrunner outside of your television screen. The roadrunner or Geococcyx californianus is a significant part of New Mexican culture, appearing as school mascots, coffee cup logos, and bumper stickers. The mighty roadrunner even graced the world’s television screens in cartoon form on the beloved show Looney Tunes where it was known for consistently outwitting a hungry coyote. Roadrunners represent home for anyone who grew up in the Land of Enchantment amd it's considered a sign of good luck to have one cross your path. Roadrunners are an abundant sight throughout the dry southwestern state and have called the area home for millennia.
Equipped with a mohawk, a long sharp beak, and a quick stride the roadrunner has the tools and cunning to adapt to a rugged and dry desert landscape. The roadrunner is a member of the family of Cuculidae known for cuckoos. The bird typically measures 23 inches from the tail to the beak. The roadrunner communicates using a series of coos and clicks, which makes sense given its family tree and is primarily terrestrial, using its four toes and two legs to propel it through its environment. Roadrunners are known to nest in prickly pear cactus clusters to safely raise their young.
Anecdotally, as a young person in Albuquerque, I had the pleasure of observing generations of roadrunners throughout my life. I never saw a roadrunner bested by a house cat or even a stray dog. I also never saw a roadrunner that had been killed by a car, quite a feat for a terrestrial critter. When I was a child, roadrunners were much rarer in the city. Things have changed drastically, as the city has grown so has the population of roadrunners.
This observation is not only based on anecdotal evidence, recent studies have shown a sharp increase in the road runner population. Scientists are attributing it to a variety of factors including an increase in food sources like rodents, bugs, and lizards across urban areas. The arid climate that the roadrunner prefers is also expanding across the sunbelt as a side effect of the severe drought conditions experienced across southern states. Unlike so many other charismatic bird species, research is starting to support what New Mexicans have been noticing for years; the increase in the population of these unique birds is here to stay. It seems like the roadrunner has chosen its niche wisely. From Missouri to the Central Valley of California roadrunners are popping up left and right.
If your state is becoming drier and more urban, then the roadrunner may be coming to a town near you.