Elusive Roadrunner Captured on Film
Earlier this month, Doris Evans of Tucson, Arizona, submitted this photo of a Greater Roadrunner at the nest, with five chicks. This was the first photo of a roadrunner nest to have been submitted to NestWatch, so we thought we’d share! Doris says that to observe and photograph a pair of nesting Greater Roadrunners from her own yard “was an amazing experience.” She watched the pair building the nest, incubating the eggs, and raising five young.
Roadrunners often situate their nest in a thorny bush, small tree, or cactus 3–10′ high. The nest is usually located near the center of the thorny plant, and is well concealed. Among the more typical nest materials you might expect (twigs, grasses, feathers, and mesquite pods), you might also find snakeskin or dried cow manure.
Old nests are sometimes reused for a winter roost, something most cup-nesting birds don’t do. Another unusual thing about roadrunners is that both parents incubate the eggs. Males and females both develop a brood patch (a wrinkly patch of bare skin on the abdomen) that is used to transfer heat to eggs. The male takes the night shift because, unlike the female, his body temperature will remain constant all night, rather than drop to conserve precious energy.
Speaking of energy, the roadrunner diet is truly cosmopolitan. A startling variety of foods are taken, including some venomous species. Lizards (including horned lizards), snakes (even rattlesnakes), insects, spiders, scorpions, birds, bird eggs, and pet food are all fair game. To fully appreciate their dietary gusto, watch a video that Doris captured of the parents feeding a zebra-tailed lizard to a nestling that is scarcely bigger than the prey.
If you live in the southwestern United States, you might find a roadrunner nest by looking carefully in your thorny shrubs and cacti this winter. Occasionally, they will reuse a nest the next breeding season. Check out more of Doris’ photos to get your “search image,” and then go out and see what you find!