Roadrunners are usually fast and clever enough to avoid predators, although they are occasionally taken by raptors and mammals (including the “wily” coyote). They have been observed standing up to an attacking hawk, flashing their wings and spreading their tail feathers out in an attempt to intimidate the raptor. Observers have even remarked that the birds seem to enjoy tormenting potential predators. One anecdote from New Mexico in 1892 described a pair of roadrunners that would appear at the same time every day to drink from a pool at a mine shaft. A dog owned by a worker there would eagerly await them. The hound would chase the birds as soon as they appeared, but the swift and agile roadrunners had no trouble staying out of reach, even stopping occasionally to drink from the pool during the heat of the chase.
Roadrunners do not migrate and can be seen any time of the year. They can turn up just about any place in the southwestern Ozarks, but are nowhere common, and many longtime Missouri birders still have yet to add them to their checklists. Driving gravel roads in our southwestern counties that are surrounded by dry, rocky woodlands, glades or pastures can be a good way to find them. The Glade Top Trail in Taney and Ozark counties is a good place to see them (as well as some beautiful views), and they can also be found in and around Caney Mountain Conservation Area in Ozark County and Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area in Taney and Stone counties. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, take the time to watch if you can—I guarantee you’ll find them every bit as fascinating as our pioneers did!
Roadrunners maintain a long-term pair bond, and both parents play major roles in defending territories, incubating eggs and caring for young. They will hunt together and renew their bond every year with an elaborate courtship display, which involves cooing, bowing, dancing and the exchange of food and nest material. Construction of their messy, twiggy nests is a shared, and divided, effort—the male gathers the twigs and the female puts the nest together. The female signals the male with a special call when she needs more material. Nests are typically built in a small tree or shrub. Clutches of three to six eggs are incubated as soon as the first egg is laid, resulting in nestlings of varying sizes. Young roadrunners grow fast and can leave the nest when they are only 14 days old, about twice as fast as some other similarly sized species. In years of abundant food, they may raise two broods in a year.
Roadrunners, like many other birds, will sunbathe, sometimes for hours at a time especially in the early morning. They turn their backs to the sun, droop their wings and raise their back feathers, exposing the dark skin underneath. During winter they sunbathe more frequently, but they will occasionally sunbathe during summer as well. The obvious reason for this is that it feels good, and it helps them stay warm. Ornithologists also speculate that it may help birds rid themselves of parasites, make their feathers easier to preen and help metabolize vitamin D.