Roadrunner Theatre: Catch a Great Chase Scene
Mike Blair, camera in hand, waits out summer’s speediest performer near his home in Pratt, Kansas.
The outdoors is an endless source of natural theatre. Roadrunners are among the most interesting performers. These long-tailed rural sprinters prefer running to flight, and they can run up to 17mph. Their short wings are not built for sustained air travel but serve them well in gymnastic escapes and dashes to capture food. Roadrunners eat lizards, small snakes, grasshoppers, small birds ““ anything they can swallow. Most of their food is taken in well-coordinated ground attacks that may culminate in amazing leaps to snatch escaping victims from the air. Grasshoppers and birds, beware.
Personalities vary greatly. Some roadrunners are curious and tame, allowing a
human to approach quite closely. I've heard stories where roadrunners actually enter a house through an open door or fly onto the seat of a tractor while a farmer worked nearby.
The roadrunners I've filmed this week? Spooky as all get-out. Drive down a country road they were hunting, and immediately they would dive into the brush. They've been particularly shy around blinds or vehicles within sight of their nest, even when parked at some distance away. My best photos were taken from a blind gradually accepted over time. Summer is a season of plenty for roadrunners.
Roadrunner with lizard
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Blair
Ninety percent of their diet is animal matter. Even in winter, roadrunners scratch through the duff to find insects and arthropods, though they will eat grains and seeds to sustain them. Of all prey species, though, snakes and lizards are most impressive. Summer lizards possess blinding speed, not unmatched by the keen-eyed roadrunner. Watch a chase through clumps of sandsage, and you'll see a spectacular display of predation ““ usually ending with a limp lizard in the beak of its hunter.