Roadrunners Are Real, And They're Spectacular!
Last week, Yr Dok Zoom talked a little bit about his damn dissertation, which looked at what I call "Wabbit Literacy," the weird thing where we sometimes learn about the world from parodies and jokes long before we ever encounter the original stuff -- like learning about opera from cartoons. More than one person in the comments (which Wonkette does not allow and yet, like life, you find a way) mentioned they were disappointed, as kids, to learn that while roadrunners are real birds, the actual critter looks nothing like this:
Which is not to say that real roadrunners are the least bit disappointing, as animals go, because they're freaking incredible. Yes, even if they don't actually leave lines of flame down the center line of desert highways and go "Meep! Meep!" But they can sprint up to 20 miles per hour, which is faster than you, albeit slower than a real coyote's top speed. Also, yes, real coyotes are among the predators what eat roadrunners, which is why the wily birds adopted the evolutionary strategy of running right through fake tunnels coyotes paint on the sides of mountains.
As a former resident of Tucson, Yr Dok Zoom is a very big fan of roadrunners, because they're awesome little dinosaur descendants. Little suckers are carnivorous, too, and the boogers like to catch & eat rattlesnakes, among other things like lizards and insects and bowls of "free bird seed" atop buried ACME-brand bear traps they never set off.
Here is a National Geographic video which we hope will embed correctly; a whole lot of the roadrunner/snake vids on YouTube are horribly overproduced, with dramatic music and shit, and what were they even thinking?
Thing is? Nothing pleases us. Even the above video is a bit too tightly edited, because real nature involves a lot more waiting around, like this vid of a roadrunner catching an itty-bitty rattler after a whole lot of stalking and feints and careful pecking.
Roadrunner vs Rattlesnake www.youtube.com
After a hike in Sabino Canyon, a real Tucson treasure, yr Dok Zoom once watched a roadrunner finishing off a ridiculously long snake it had caught (no idea what kind; I'm no geologist). We missed the initial snake-killin'; our attention was drawn by a loud thwacking sound as the roadrunner whapped the snake on the ground over and over, for a good five to ten minutes as I recall. Gotta break up all them snakey bones, we guess. And then that bird ate the snake, which was like double or triple the roadrunner's length. We were mostly wondering how the hell all that snake fit into one bird, even if the snake was liquefied inside. This was long before cell phones, so darned if we documented the moment, darn it.
Roadrunners are on our mind today because of this beautiful Twitter thread by Sonoran Desert dweller Havi Brooks. It went all viral because she writes good about a roadrunner that has been hangin' out on her porch:
A friend explained maybe the roadrunner is trying to catch her fancy:
Many good pictures, like shy roadrunner behind ocotillo, and roadrunner showing off lizard, and look at that colorful eye-skin, huh? (the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum -- another Tucson gem! -- tells us that's a bare patch of skin, not feathers).
Brooks noted that the birb had "taken to jumping in the air and flinging himself at my window until it rattles and I come downstairs, then he does a dance," and that she has met precious few members of her own species that had put so much effort into making a good impression. She even caught the little guy on video, though she assures us this is one of his less spectacular displays.
Unfortunately, that brief mention of dudes never trying to impress her resulted in a lot of DMs from guys who wanted to show her their lizards, and what the hell is wrong with people on the goddamn internet? Fortunately, the thread inspired a lot MORE people who just loved the roadrunner, a metric fuckton of wonderful True-Life Nature Adventure stories (including a yoga seagull and a lovestruck booby in the Galapagos), and folks who wondered if the bird was simply trying to impress that other roadrunner he saw in the glass. Brooks says maybe, but that this little dude follows her from window to window and also approaches her when she's sitting outside, so maybe he's trying to
charm his reflection and also enjoy showing off for people. Road runners have huge personalities and are super smart. Other than with recognizing their own faces. ;)
And yes, she's also very nice to all the people who only just learned that roadrunners aren't fictional cartoon animals. That inspired Brooks to spin out a pitch meeting about an alternate reality where cartoon producers just made up such an outlandish creature.
We are saying you may want to give Havi Brooks a follow, because not only is she smart about roadrunners, she's also pissed-off about some of the more pernicious denizens of the desert southwest, like the goddamned Border Patrol. After her roadrunner story blowed up on the internet, she urged people to donate to People Helping People on the Border, a group that helps migrants and monitors Border Patrol checkpoints to prevent abuses. Consider sending them some money -- no lizards, please.
Also too, Brooks's thread about her avian friend reminds us of the cartoon coyote's real origin story, as related in Chuck Jones's memoir, Chuck Amuck. No, we do not know if this is absolutely true, but it's a good story! Jones says reading Mark Twain's Roughing It at the tender age of seven left a lasting impression on him. He'd heard of coyotes before, but says the little he knew of the coyote made it sound like a "dissolute collie" -- an impression Twain fleshed out:
The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolfskin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede [...]
He does not mind going a hundred miles to breakfast, and a hundred and fifty to dinner, because he is sure to have three or four days between meals, and he can just as well be traveling and looking at the scenery as lying around doing nothing and adding to the burdens of his parents.
As far as we know, Jones knew nothing of the coyote as trickster figure in Native American oral tradition, at least when he created the cartoons, but the Loony Tunes version of the creature (and to a lesser extent, Twain's) irreversibly colored our own reading of Coyote stories in Diné Bahane': The Navajo Creation Story. As required for graduate students, we dealt with it by writing a paper.
Jones laid down some pretty good rules -- also in Chuck Amuck -- for the endless Sisyphean conflict between his Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote:
Rule 1: The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going "beep-beep"
Rule 2: No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products
Rule 3: The Coyote could stop anytime—if he were not a fanatic (repeat: "a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." – George Santayana)
Rule 4: No dialogue ever, except "beep-beep"
Rule 5: The Road Runner must stay on the road—otherwise logically, he would not be called a road runner
Rule 6: All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters—the Southwest American desert
Rule 7: All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme corporation
Rule 8: Whenever possible, make gravity the coyote's greatest enemy
Rule 9: The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures
Mind you, those were mostly guidelines -- we can think of a few exceptions, like the bird blowing the horn of a train that comes out of a painted tunnel and smacks the Coyote. (But no, the one where Wile E. talks is not breaking those rules, since that was with Bugs Bunny -- no Road Runner at all.)
In conclusion, may you have good True Life Nature Encounters this holiday weekend, even if they're only through a window, or with the domesticated wildcats, wolves, and other critters in your own personal environs.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.