Keeping Warm

Roadrunner - Photo by Tim Giller
Roadrunner - Photo by Tim Giller

I was beginning to feel real empathy toward ol’ Wile E Coyote and had started to wonder if Acme Co. sold wildlife cameras online. Those roadrunners are aptly named. Nine out of ten of them that we’ve seen were running across or along side the road and being able to get up to 20 mph or more were too elusive for me to photograph. The 10th bird was just causally hunting in the grass a few yards away from Lil’ Squatch the other morning proving once again that sometimes calm patience is a naturalist's best tool.

There are lots of interesting details about North America’s largest member of the cuckoo family including the fact that they are indeed cuckoos and make sounds appropriate to that name. They also get almost all their water from the animals and plant matter that they eat and in order to conserve moisture they secrete body salt through a gland near their eyes. Roadrunners are able to eat poisonous and venomous creatures including rattlesnakes. They often do this in pairs; one distracting the snake while the other sneaks up, grabs it behind the head and then smacks it to death before swallowing. If the snake is too long you may see a roadrunner dashing around with a tail hanging from its mouth while it’s digesting.

I think the most curious detail about roadrunners is that they have solar panels. I might be biased because I spent quite a few hours (and busted a few knuckles) installing solar panels on Lil’ Squatch with some help from my friend Chris. Having spent a number of subfreezing nights in our unheated and poorly insulated home we’ve also come to appreciate having good placement for the morning sun.

Snow at Prehistoric Trackways NM -Photo by Tim Giller
Snow at Prehistoric Trackways NM -Photo by Tim Giller

The cold can make it hard for us to get out of our cozy bed, but roadrunners go into a state of torpor, lowering their metabolism during the cold nights, and use the sun to jump start their day. On their lower back they have dark skin and they turn their tails toward the desert sun unfolding their feathers to let the solar energy warm their blood. It was a chilly morning and while I was making a second cup of coffee to get me out of my state of torpor our new friend was alternating between snatching up little critters from the grass for breakfast and flashing us his rear end toward the morning sun.

Roadrunner Solar Panels - Photo By Tim Giller
Roadrunner Solar Panels - Photo By Tim Giller