How to Know the Birds: No. 15, The Incomparable Coolness and Supreme Glory of Roadrunners
• What: Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus
• When: Friday, August 23, 2019
• Where: Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico
You could make the case that I shouldn’t have gone birding that Friday morning. I had a meeting to attend and a presentation to prep for; I had a crushing load of deadlines in the week ahead; and I was carless at a high-rise hotel at that mother-of-all-intersections of I-40 and I-25 in downtown Albuquerque.
You can probably guess the outcome.
I managed to Frogger my way across the interchange, then up a gravelly embankment, and past a dude asking for drugs, eventually arriving at this place:
I caught a bit of motion out the corner of my eye, looked across the canal, and saw this:
A roadrunner! Yay! The bird I’d come here specifically to see. I love roadrunners. I lived in New Mexico, long ago, and I love New Mexico, too. I’ve seen roadrunners in grasslands, in canyons, and in deserts of course, but there’s something weirdly bewitching about roadrunners in cities. By the way, Albuquerque is a big city. I wonder how many Easterners realize it’s bigger, by a wide margin, than Atlanta.
After a moment, the roadrunner got down to business, plucking a small lizard from the thin stretch of sorry-looking chaparral across the channel from where I was standing:
The bird was also given to bouts of eccentricity:
It caught more lizards, it flipped its tail about expressively, and it did what roadrunners do best. It ran. Okay more of an easy canter, but still:
All by myself up there on the steep concrete berm above the low-flow canal, I couldn’t help myself: I pumped my fist into the air; I smiled widely and wildly; I exclaimed out loud, “That is the coolest bird in the world!” Actually, there was one other person in the general vicinity: the dude seeking drugs. I suppose I can see that he thought I was high on something. High on seeing a roadrunner.
The ground, I noticed, was shaking. You might be able to tell why from the excessive ambient noise in the video above. But if it’s not coming to you, here’s the deal:
That’s what was going on immediately below me and behind me. And a little farther out, the morning rush smack dab in the middle of one of America’s big cities:
Isn’t this the greatest thing about being a birder? Surrounded by traffic and construction, immersed in urban infrastructure, I found myself in the presence of what has to be just about the greatest bird in the ABA Area if not the whole planet.
Should I have gone birding that busy Friday morning? Was there ever even any doubt about it?
Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives with the ABA. Ted has written 200+ magazine articles and 5 books, including How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). He is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and has served on several nonprofit boards. Join Ted here for his semimonthly spot, “How to Know the Birds,” celebrating common birds and the uncommonly interesting things they do.