Secret Lives of Roadrunners at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus

Roadrunner Diptych  copy
A roadrunner at Comanche Springs sitting a tree – a rare sight.

Of all the animals the camera traps have captured during my wildlife research at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus – there is one animal that adores being a ham for the cameras. Don’t ask me how it knows these are cameras set up to take images when something moves in front of the camera, but they do.

Greater roadrunners, Geococcyx californianus, are seen running throughout many areas of the 700 acres at the campus. Roadrunners are natural born runners, hence their name and can attain running speeds of up to 17 mph hour. Their peculiar genus name translates to earth (from the Greek geo) and cuckoo (from the Greek coccyx) or “cuckoo of the ground.” They are year-round residents of Texas.

Often I have one or two running their patrol in front of the Gator down the trails, as I go and check my cameras. They often pause and look back at me as if they are saying, “are you coming?”

What’s been remarkable about these birds is them posing for the cameras or checking them out very closely. Only a few species have done the latter during this research: bobcats, raccoons, deer, and one mountain lion. Often the deer lick the cameras. Yep – deer need to taste things apparently. The curiosity eventually wanes for these mammals, but not the roadrunners.

In some of the photo captures they look like they are smiling saying “cheese” and one recent image looks like it’s grumpy looking directly head-on at the camera. The research has gradually increased to me setting out 10 camera traps since it began in March 2015. No matter where the cameras are located – the roadrunners find them and pose for some shots. It’s either they don’t want to be forgotten or they think “hey, new camera! I’m gonna strike a pose.”

These omnivores have posed in front of the cameras with a variety of lizards and insects. From a current photo, I was surprised immensely because one held a rodent in its beak! The posing roadrunner seemed prideful to show the camera his prize meal of the day.

Greater Roadrunners eat small mammals, reptiles, frogs, toads, insects, centipedes, scorpions, and birds. It’s hard imagining this bird swallowing such large prey, but in order to do so, they slam rodents and lizards, against a rock or the ground multiple times to break down the bones and elongate their victims, making it easier for them to swallow.

Research states these birds reabsorbs water from their feces before excretion, as well as from some of the prey they eat. So there is a myth that these birds don’t drink water, as one friend pointed out not long ago, saying “What – roadrunners don’t drink water!” after seeing a roadrunner at the water tank. However, one camera trap has captured the roadrunners drinking water from the water tank on the campus numerous times.

I truly believe more research on these remarkable birds is needed. It’s obvious they have a personality, as well as recognize camera traps as opportunities for showing off. Their curiosity shines in the photos showing their smartness, to striking poses to exhibiting their latest meals. Roadrunners are truly incredible. This research has given some insight into their secret lives. Who would have ever thought a roadrunner would be such a curious bird?

What follows are some of the camera trap photos since 2015 to the present.

Grumpy roadrunner.
Browning 1 - Sept 2015 895 copy
A roadrunner greeting. Yes – there are several camera traps photos of them doing this in various ways.
Roadrunner with his rodent meal.
Covert-June 3, 2015 237
Roadrunner with his meal.
Roadrunner getting his meal ready.
Browning 1 - Sept 2015 045 copy
Roadrunner drinking water.
Brown One  Aug 11 2015 (5234)
Roadrunners after drinking water.


Found the hidden camera.
Classic roadrunner pose when running.


Photographs – © Christena Stephens