It’s not the most common sight to witness—a ground bird high atop a boulder. But there it was, a roadrunner perched on the edge of a rock the size of a Mini Cooper.
Maybe the bird wasn’t used to heights or had made a poor landing, for it stood at an awkward tilting angle. Its long tail quivered as if for balance, and a breeze ruffled the rakish crest on its head.
The roadrunner was on a rock in my friend’s desert garden in Trancas Canyon, a fitting setting for the species.
When I spent time in the desert last summer, roadrunners were ubiquitous. On my rambles in the Santa Monica Mountains, however, the roadrunner has seemed to be a more reclusive bird, not so commonly encountered.
Before I moved to rural Agoura, I used to live in Trancas Canyon, and on occasion roadrunners would cross our road. But this was a first, spotting one of these well-known scurrying birds posed like wobbly sentinel high atop a boulder.
In the desert, the actual living, breathing roadrunner is everywhere, and it has an unprecedented second life as a school mascot, a sports team logo and ceramic or metal garden ornaments.
Its likeness serves as the “outgoing” flag on many a mailbox, and adorns banners at fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, golf tournaments, car dealerships and car washes.
It’s roadrunner infatuation and over-saturation in the desert.
Back home in the Santa Monica Mountains, I slam on my brakes then kill the car’s engine so as to safely gawk when a roadrunner abruptly appears, skittering across the road. With that prominent tail, the roadrunner reminds me of a truncated version of a pheasant, and with the spiky crest of feathers atop its head it could pass for a heavily hair-lacquered rock star.
My friend and I were studying the roadrunner on the Trancas boulder when the bird made a sudden, startling dash off the rock. The roadrunner displayed all the grace and finesse of a doomed pirate being forced to walk the plank and plunge into lethal ocean depths. We feared the bird would break its neck because it plummeted, rather than flew, to the ground.
To give the roadrunner credit, despite looking so clumsy and discombobulated, it landed in one piece and at a dead run. The bird streaked into some weedy ground cover and nabbed a large day-flying moth. This morsel was gulped down with rapacious verve, then the bird strutted off, its head swiveling as it prowled for more delicacies to surprise and snare.
In profile, this fearless, sharp-eyed bird may appear to be smirking, so it’s not hard to understand how this particular species gained notoriety as a cartoon character. Likewise, its form of propulsion— an Olympic sprinter’s burst from the starting block—makes it a fun bird to observe, and parody.
Glasser is a freelance writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.