What is the State Bird of New Mexico? (And Why?)

New Mexico is the fifth-largest state by area and the 36th most populous in the United States. Most people think that New Mexico has only arid deserts, however, it has one of the most diverse landscapes in the US. The state has a mixture of high mountains, open grasslands and woodlands. The state animal for New Mexico is the Smokey Bear, but what is the state bird?

The state of New Mexico chose the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) as the state bird in 1949. The beloved bird earned the respect of Native American nations who coopted its X-shaped footprint as a sacred symbol to ward off evil spirits.

The state bird of New Mexico, the Greater Roadrunner

The state bird of New Mexico, the Greater Roadrunner

Why is the Roadrunner the state bird for New Mexico?

The Native American peoples of New Mexico appreciate the speed of this avian that can run on foot at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. The bird commonly resides in desert climates year-round, favoring the US states of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and Texas.

When did the Roadrunner become the state bird for New Mexico?

The State of New Mexico legislature adopted the Roadrunner as state bird on March 16, 1949. New Mexico doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.

Close up portrait of a Greater Roadrunner

Close up portrait of a Greater Roadrunner

What does the state bird of New Mexico look like?

You can’t miss the Roadrunner when travelling around the state of New Mexico. This ground bird, with a large build and black-brown with white streaked feathers, uses its long, strong legs to escape its natural predator, the coyote. Yes, the cartoon got that right. Its head features an oversized bill, and a can’t miss its head crest. Its long, broad tail sticks out from its body, and three outer tail feathers with white tips mark its end. Its back feathers range in color from olive to dark grayish brown.

These large birds weigh a bit more than your typical avian – between half a pound and 15 ounces. They grow to between 22 inches and 24 inches. They have a wingspan of about 17 inches to 24 inches.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

How do these birds behave?

Also referred to as the Chaparral Bird, el corrrecaminos, and el paisano, the larger of the two ground cuckoo species, this bird prefers living in grasslands, brushlands, and deserts. This avian species They enjoy sitting on low perches and watching for their prey. The Greater Roadrunner lives at lower elevations, typically beneath 7,000 feet. This weak flier runs strongly. You’ll only see on take flight to capture prey or enter its nest.

Roadrunners do build nests, but you aren’t likely to see one. They conceal their nests because they like their privacy. They typically choose small trees, thorny bushes, or three to ten-foot tall cactuses for their nesting location. Their twiggy nest construction takes place in the interior-most area of the tree.

During winter, you have a daytime opportunity to spot these nifty avians while they sun themselves. When the temperatures dip to 68F, they warm themselves in the desert sunshine. During windy days, they shelter in dense vegetation or within rock formations or groupings. These natural wind blocks help them stay warm. While that might not sound cold to you, the roadrunner acclimated to New Mexico’s warmer temps, which can reach 120F during summer.

You might be tempted to try to jog with this bird, but it can outrun humans. Pretty much the only human who could keep up would be the king of the 100-meter dash, Usain Bolt, who Belgian scientists clocked at a speed of 27.33 miles per hour. He’s the world’s fastest human and the only one likely to keep up with this speedy bird.

A Greater Roadrunner perched on rocks

A Greater Roadrunner perched on rocks

Do Roadrunners form communities?

The Roadrunner rarely forms a flock, but when you do spot a group of them together, the term to describe them is a marathon or race.

Typically, they are solitary animals and only make exception to this when they pair. They love their mates and commit to monogamous relationships, mating for life. The male of this species partners with the female in all aspects of life, including building the nest, feeding the young, even in incubating the eggs. The female typically lays up to four eggs per nesting period. Their clutch size can go up to ten, though.

You can attract roadrunners to your yard. Your landscaping will draw these dear birds to your home if you plant enough open, grassy areas of native vegetation that enable them to hunt for prey. You also need some scattered brush so they can shelter from predators. You need the latter because planting native species draws their predators, too. You also attract their prey, though, so you will have a great many insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals coming to your yard. It may soon resemble a petting zoo.

If your yard has many large trees in it or around it, the birds typically avoid it regardless of what you plant. They avoid dense forests and woodlands since these areas make poor running straightaways. The Roadrunner prioritizes areas that let it quickly get away from those it doesn’t want to be around, such as coyotes.

A Greater Roadrunner eating a spider

A Greater Roadrunner eating a spider

What do Roadrunners eat?

Greater roadrunners dine on rodents, insects, reptiles, and small mammals. Because of the harsh environments this bird resides in, it will eat essentially anything. That includes other birds, so don’t be surprised to watch it leap straight up to catch insects or other hummingbirds, baby quail, and sparrows. Other animals, the avian, hunt by walking rapidly then dashing to catch their prey. For this reason, you can’t draw the birds into your yard with a feeder. Instead, you must construct a feeding ground for them.

Since they reside in a desert which inherently has little water available, they obtain their water from their food. The bird prioritizes animals that contain lots of water and hydrates itself by eating them.

For more on the diet of a Roadrunner, check out this article on what they eat.

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