Greater Roadrunner, Taking A Dirt Bath

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I was taking a walk the other afternoon when I saw a Greater Roadrunner trotting towards me on the path.  The bird seemed indifferent to my presence and we rapidly closed ground until we were separated by less than 10 feet.  At that point, the Roadrunner stopped walking, lowered itself to the ground, and began vigorously rolling in the dirt.  It flapped its wings and it lowered its head, quickly covering itself with powdery soil.  It seemed to be enjoying itself.  Then, it stood, shook vigorously, and continued on its way, walking past me, less than two feet away.

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This isn’t my first close encounter with a Greater Roadrunner.  These birds, it seems, easily become inured to humans’ presence.  In places where humans and Roadrunners frequently cross paths, like Sabino Canyon or Sweetwater Wetlands, the Roadrunners become so apparently tame that they appear to act like household pets.  They’re not tame, of course, just opportunistic.  These birds present a comical — even lovable — appearance and I suspect that at least some of them have cultivated the ability to charm people in order to get handouts.  Left to their own devices, Roadrunners are fierce predators that will attack and eat anything smaller than they are.  Roadrunners happily chow down on smaller birds, rodents, lizards, snakes, and insects.

The Roadrunner that I encountered the other day was so used to human presence that it treated me with something approaching contempt.  It was totally vulnerable as it rolled around in the dirt and it cared not at all that I was standing just a few feet away photographing it.  I never cease to be amazed at how some species adapt to take advantage of changed conditions.  We naively think of them as dumb.  They think of us as food sources.

So, why was it rolling in the dirt?  That’s a good question.  Believe it or not, it’s been researched.  Apparently a lot of species, from songbirds to chickens, do it.  It’s thought that rolling in dirt helps to remove excess oil from the bird’s feathers and to eliminate mites and other parasites.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/320.

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