ON MARCH 16, 1949, the New Mexico Legislature named as our official state avian species the “Chaparral Bird,” aka Geococcyx californianus, aka the greater roadrunner. Longtime hero of Saturday morning cartoons, the state bird can fly, but it usually prefers to beetle along on its strong legs, and does so throughout the state, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Related to cuckoo birds, they’re smart enough to catch snakes (including rattlers), lizards, mice, and centipedes, but must beware of the far faster coyote, which, to our knowledge, has yet to actually purchase ACME anvils in pursuit of winged prey. During breeding season, roadrunners develop blue and red skin near their eyes. The bird’s zygodactyl feet—two toes forward, two backward—disguise the direction of its tracks. Native peoples, who admire the bird’s speed, sometimes use its X-shaped footprint as a sacred symbol to keep evil spirits from following them.
WHERE TO SEE ONE
Scattered statewide below 7,000 feet, with the exception of the northwest corner, in grasslands, amid cacti and juniper, piñon, and mesquite trees.