Score: Mockingbird 1, Roadrunner 0

A mockingbird resides in a live oak tree on the east side of the terrace beside the house.  For several days I have observed roadrunners coming up to the terrace early in the morning and mid-afternoon to feast on grasshoppers.  Occasionally, the roadrunners will scale a separate live oak tree from the mockingbird’s nest only to be thrown back, not by cauldrons of burning drought-oil in Texas, but by the fierce, unrelenting assault of the mockingbird.  The trees upon the terrace are mockingbird territory!  Beware aliens!  The mockingbirds will allow red-headed woodpeckers to pierce bark for a meal, but not the roadrunner.

Yesterday, I took these photos of the tournament.  At end of battle, the score was Team Mockingbird 1, Team Roadrunner 0.  The roadrunner ran off the terrace and into the mesquite thickets on the Dooley place.

A roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a cuckoo, here pictured on the terrace with pale-leaf yucca in background (north Erath County, Texas, 2011).

Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) assaults roadrunner (north Erath County, Texas, 2011).

Mockingbird stares at roadrunner.

Roadrunner stares at mockingbird.

I have had close encounters with both species in rescuing them from death.  I unloosed a mockingbird from bird netting several years ago.  He bit me and drew blood.  And, a year or so ago, I saved a roadrunner from drowning in a water trough.  He had fallen in and was unable to fly or climb out.  I have no idea if the roadrunners I see are survivors of that event — more than likely not since it was over a year ago.

I do have a field note about each of these birds.  I can hear the roadrunner chattering, a noise he makes by rolling mandibles together.  He has a voice like a dove, but more often I hear the chatter.  The other note is that the mockingbirds like to sing at night in the spring — all night long.  I used to hear them as a boy when I slept with the windows open; I barely hear them now with the air conditioner blowing.

Seeking comic relief in all this heat, I look for a coyote to come across the terrace tomorrow, laying a trap for Team Roadrunner.  I hear coyotes, but don’t see them.  “Beep, beep.”

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Score: Mockingbird 1, Roadrunner 0

  1. Two formidable birds, and they make ’em fierce down here. That mockingbird was probably defending a nest…maybe the woodpeckers don’t go after babies. I see roadrunners with small animals hanging out of their mouths, and the mockingbirds here don’t sleep. They stay up all night doing their imitations of a hundred different bird calls—very loudly. Showoffs!

    But like we always say, they’ve all got to eat. But when I hear that line from the cartoon “poor little roadrunner…” I always think, yeah right!

    • Hi Debra: They sure to make’em fierce. Yes, those roadrunners do predate on small animal life. They are loud those mocks. I agree, I don’t think “poor little roadrunner” either.

  2. That is a pretty interesting tournament! When I lived in Arizona I enjoyed both of those birds, the antics of the roadrunner and the music of the mockingbird. Many nights I would stay up late to listen to a mockingbird and several times I could get one to answer to a whistle. Never saw them interact though: that was cool!

  3. The first I knew about a road runner was the cartoons many years ago. It it was so funny that road runner. Beep Beep! We don’t have mocking birds or road runners here in Dk! Our cuckoo is certainly not a road runner. The starling looks a little and might be similar to the mocking bird?
    I like the story. You are a good story-teller!
    Cheers from a mocking bird- and road runner- free place!
    Grethe ´)

    • Grethe, what a fine post you had the other day on disease and medicine. I’ve thought about it several times. Yes, cheers for the mockingbird. I want the roadrunner to keep the snakes away and not bother our birds. But, nature is what it is….

  4. “The mockingbirds will allow red-headed woodpeckers to pierce bark for a meal, but not the roadrunner.”
    Aha – what we can find out if we look and listen. This is a cool and entertaining post. Thank you for it and great pictures.

    • Yes, isn’t that odd? The woodpeckers I suppose are not predators and they peck around the trees all the time and mockingbirds won’t bother them. Yes, stop and look and listen. Cirrelda, how are you doing in the heat over there?

  5. Roadrunners are known predators and the mockingbirds fear nothing when it comes to defending their nests. What a great series of photos and accompanying words. Wonderful. Just glad I don’t have to live with the heat you’ve had down there!

    • Thanks, Bill. I am coming to appreciate the fierceness of the mockingbird since it pecked me almost to the bone that time. I took those shots from the other side of the window from where the action was. I just now heard the roadrunner doing his mandible thing outside. Really is a chatter.

  6. It’s always a treat to watch nature and its inhabitants do their thing, protective mamas especially. I have bear scat from a mama bear and her cub on the back meadow again this year. As much as I’d like to see them, only from a very safe distance, with Buddy in the house. Thanks for a fun read. It’s good to have some humor to get us through these trying times.

    • Yes, stay away from those bears. Haven’t the foggiest idea of what to do with a curious one. I stayed away from them in the New Mexico mountains as much as I could. Never ran into one!

  7. Love this story and the photos. Quite a duel.

    The other morning while riding my bike along the levee road I saw a mockingbird go after a red-shouldered hawk that was sitting on the phone line, quietly watching for prey in the field beyond it. The mockingbird was pretty aggressive but the hawk pretty much just ignored it and finally it gave up and flew back to from whence it came. I was surprised. Usually the hawks will just fly off where they won’t be bothered. Not this one.

  8. Val

    Well, before reading your post I hadn’t known anything about the roadrunner. Is it a cuckoo in the same way that a ‘typical’ cuckoo is – does it take over other birds’ nests and push out their young to make way for its own? I’d have thought they were two very different species. Most birds are very fierce when it comes to looking after themselves and their young. (Well, I suppose when it comes down to it, all species are, including ourselves.)

    Birds are strange and fascinating creatures and I’m very fond of them, though I do prefer the smaller birds to their predators. That said – I’ve now got a blog for my nature photography, you might be interested in: valsnature.wordpress.com I don’t post to it as much as my main one, but you might enjoy some of my posts there. Today I posted about a Sparrowhawk. Not surprisingly all the little birds stayed away when it was about – very wise.

    • I don’t think it takes over other bird’s nests. It evidently has cuckoo characteristics enough to classify it that way. After reading more about the roadrunner, I’m up and down about how I like it. Good to hear from you Val.

  9. Pingback: Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Movie

  10. John C

    On May 1, 2012 while standing in my driveway in Austin, TX on a residential street not far from a greenbelt I watched a trio of mockingbirds dive bomb a chaparral (road runner), our local HS mascot. Mockingbirds use this defensive tactic on cats, dogs and people. But this was unusual because the chaparral was not deterred and very fast. He (she) struck out and knocked one of the mockingbirds to the driveway across the street and proceeded to beat it to death and then fly off with it. Later it brought back the carcass to the street and dissected it. It was quite a display and gave me some new respect for the roadrunner. I had only seen cats able to catch them before.

    • Hi, John. Wow! What a story. Goodness, what a event you witnessed. Those roadrunners are ferocious. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you come back and visit again and comment.

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