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Re: Roadrunners and cursorial wing use
I can't fully tell John C. McLoughlin how much I appreciate his
wonderful account of roadrunners, being from Texas. And I know from
personal experience how true his report of roadrunner punctuality actually
is, when he says, "...appearing almost exactly at noon each day..."
Years ago, my identical twin brother, two other friends, and I, used to
drive into Austin every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (and sometimes on
Tuesday and Thursday, as well) at the same time, coming from north-west of
town, in via Bull Creek Road. I always kept my watch set very accurately,
but if I hadn't done so, I COULD have done it just by when a roadrunner ran
across our route at precisely the same place and time on those days of each
week! WE never stopped to try and ask the bird where it was heading, but
that little feathered theropod surely had a very important appointment to
keep in a timely way, at least on those days of the week! If all humans
were that punctual, life would be a lot easier.
So, a question for John: May I have your permission to forward your
wonderful roadrunner account to my twin brother, who is not on this list?
He and his wife are serious birders, and they would love to read it.
"You know my method. It is founded upon the observance of trifles." --
Sherlock Holmes in The Boscombe Valley Mystery
----- Original Message -----
From: "Accipiter" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, August 12, 2002 9:38 AM
Subject: Roadrunners and cursorial wing use
...With regard to roadrunners, I come from where they make 'em and have had
much opportunity to watch them at work. For many years, we were in the
habit of feeding meat scraps from the butchering of sheep and elk to corvids
(magpies, ravens, crows and scrub jays, in this case), placing the scraps
aloft on a platform we constructed for this purpose. Each winter, a pair of
roadrunners appeared at our house to partake of this bounty. These
predators were definitely a pair, for they rarely appeared alone, and they
were creatures of habit, too, appearing almost exactly at noon each day -
only during winter, mind. Presumably, they returned to the lowland breeding
grounds during the rest of the year.
While the roadrunners initially showed up for meat scraps, we were early
impressed when a house finch struck one of our floor-to-ceiling solar
windows on a snowy day, and out of nowhere one of the roadrunners dashed to
seize the stunned and fluttering bird. The roadrunner beat the bejeezus
out of the finch by bashing it on the ground and on a gatepost, and then
swallowed the remnant whole, and since that incident, for all the ensuing
years the roadrunners visited us, they watched our windows assiduously and
seized any birds stunned thereby long before our lazy cats noticed such
incidents. They were quick learners, later also watching when the children
took live-trapped mice outside the house for release, and slaying these
rodents in the same manner as soon as they hit the ground, much to the
astonishment of our daughters and their friends. The clanking of the metal
Havahart trap trigger alone would call the roadrunners into view.
When making their swift dashes after prey, the swift and agile roadrunners
invariably flicked their wings open to execute acute running turns, clearly
employing the increased drag to redirect their momentum as required.
Otherwise, the wings remained close to the body. We often remarked upon the
likely resemblance of these largeish birds to small coelophysids in manner
Behaviourally, the roadrunners displayed little fear of humans or cats,
which latter they delighted in teasing; the birds' size and peculiar display
manner seemed sufficient to convince the cats that these were not prey
animals. Significantly, they seemed fully aware of the source of the meaty
bounty, and peered through the windows and rapped loudly at the glass with
their beaks when none was immediately forthcoming. This habit of knocking
much impressed us - seemed like a sort of purposeful communication, after
all, and we were able to demonstrate this knocking to many guests. When we
appeared at the door with food, the roadrunners ran ahead of our feet in
lockstep with one another, flying easily to the 7-foot meat platform and
making peculiar metallic clacking noises while parading about waiting to be
served. Delightful animals, our own private dinosaurs - and, again, plainly
employers of wing motion in executing quick running turns. I've long been
convinced that small !
feathered theropods could use feather-flicking hairpin turns to evade
larger, heavier predators and to zero in on agile prey; I've seen 'em do it.
John C. McLoughlin
Taos, New Mexico