Meet Your Neighbors

Can’t forget about roadrunners, another species of full-time desert dwellers. Forget what you think you know from the cartoon series. Roadrunners can make about 7 different calls, mostly coo-ing, but “beep beep” is not one of them. The Road Runner always outsmarted and outran Wile E. Coyote, but in fact, coyotes can run over 40 mph, while roadrunners clock in around 20 mph. Not much for flying, their short wings can only keep their body airborne for a few seconds at a time.

Like quail, they mate for life. Unlike quail, they don’t tend to continually “hang” with their mate except for breeding and raising their babies. Both male and female work together gathering materials to make a nest, placing it on a branch or cactus a few feet off the ground. Male body temp is warmer, so they are in charge of incubating the eggs.

Roadrunners have a distinctive x-shaped footprint, with 2 toes pointing forward and 2 backward. As the state bird of New Mexico, their footprints are regarded by Native Americans as sacred symbols to ward off evil. The x-shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.

Eating mostly small animals and insects, roadrunners have been known to even kill and eat rattlesnakes. But since lizards are in great supply during all the warm months in our desert, this would appear to be their preference.

Roadrunners enjoy perching high to bask in the sun after a cool night in the desert. They blanket themselves in their feathers to become rather undistinguishable. Maybe you have seen them sunbathing in your windowsill.



Covey of Quail

And speaking of desert dwellers. One of my favorite species is the quail, especially in the late spring, when all the babies appear. The official term for a cluster or family of quail is a "covey of quail". Quite often you'll see one of the parents at the front of the pack, all the babies follow in single file, and the other parent is bringing up the rear. Those new little babies look like little walnut shells scurrying on tiny feet. There can be as many as 20 of those little babies in a brood. Sadly, the mortality rate is pretty high, since they are the perfect snack size for many other desert dwellers like hawks and snakes. So one day you'll count 18 babies in a covey, and a few days later the number may be down to 11.

There are so many things to love and admire about these creatures. Aside from their distinguishing top feathers and unmistakable quail-speak, they possess traits that we as humans respect and admire. These birds mate for life, and remain monogamous til death do them part. Both parents share equally in parenting duties, and they fight to the death to protect their babies.

As a fellow desert dweller, I love to kill time drinking my beverage of choice on my patio as I watch and listen to these enchanting creatures move thru their day.