some folklore as the deliverer of newborn babies. The roadrunner also played a prominent role in Native American cultures. Roadrunners are depicted in ancient drawings on cliff/canyon walls in Texas and New Mexico. The symbol “X,” which refers to the roadrunners’ unique footprint, was used in a variety of ways by members of the Hopi and Pueblo tribes to ward off evil spirits.
A Fleet-Footed Hunter
Roadrunners are opportunistic hunters of small animals and have adapted to take advantage of human-altered habitats. Insects make up the bulk of the roadrunner’s diet, especially grasshoppers, beetles and other large insects. Small lizards and snakes are also a favorite food. However, roadrunners will eat just about anything small enough for them to catch and over power. They have been known to eat birds as large as cardinals, mice, rats, gophers, bats, ground squirrels and young rabbits. They also occasionally feed on fruit and berries, as well as carrion when available.
Roadrunners hunt in a deliberate, tactical manner. They covertly survey their surroundings and adapt their tactics based upon the opportunities that present themselves. Grasshoppers and other insects are grabbed from tall grass and other vegetation. Larger prey are captured by stealthily (and sometimes nonchalantly) stalking up close, then pouncing with a quick burst of speed, grabbing it with their bills.
The tales of their antics while capturing food are legendary. Early ornithologists collecting small birds in the southwestern U.S. would often have to race local roadrunners to pick up specimens that they had just shot, a race that the roadrunners often won. They also have learned, as have many hawks, that bird feeders are an easy source of food and will occasionally stalk and capture unwary birds at feeders, even hummingbirds.
The intimidating rattlesnake is also on the menu for roadrunners, which has contributed to their legend. One myth about roadrunners is that they will sneak up on a sleeping rattlesnake and build a wall around it using cactus spines. Upon awakening, the snake goes crazy and either bites itself to death or is impaled by the spines. While this tale has never been verified, equally impressive feats of strategy and skill have been observed when roadrunners cooperatively attack rattlesnakes, with one bird distracting the serpent, while the other creeps up and pins the snake’s head. The snake is dispatched by thrashing its head against a rock or other hard surface.