“If I show myself to you it is only because I want you to see me. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some sort of long-term thing. I am mere here to show you what you have been missing while your head is constantly facing the ground. I am here to remind you that once in a while you need to raise your head and take a good hard look at what is around you.”
– Animal totem tarot
There are two types of roadrunner, the greater and the lesser and for the purposes of this post, I will be thinking about them both here and if I’m not specific, then it’s either because my source is unclear about which or the information is relevant to both. This may not be what everyone would do but I have never seen a roadrunner and researching them has proven to confuse the two. From what I can tell, they are fairly similar. They live in different areas, with a small overlap and the Lesser is smaller with slightly different plumage.
Both the Lesser and Greater Roadrunners are opportunistic predators that eat a wide array of prey including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, small reptiles and frogs. The Greater at least beats their larger prey, such as snakes and small birds, on the ground to disarticulate the skeleton, allowing them to swallow it whole. Take advantage of what is around you, leap on the opportunities you can see. As you will see, this bird is about action, not reflection. If you’re familiar with the astrological elements, think fire not air, impulse not thinking.
The Lesser Roadrunner can run up to 20 miles per hour and this is how it moves around most of the time. Running allows them to use the open roads as racetracks for chasing insects and lizards. They are also highly manoeuvrable on the ground allowing for quick changes in direction. This makes them appear as if they are here one minute and gone the next. They are a flash on the edge of your awareness. This could be an idea, a thought, an insight and knowing they’re coming, be alert to them. Pay attention, these flashes are key right now.
Roadrunners can fly but only do so when absolutely necessary – again this is not a bird we associate with air, it had much more earthy, grounded energy. The roadrunner is here to push you into practical action.
Because of their chosen habitat, they have to face vast variations in temperatures. Overnight, they lower their body temperature slightly and go into a slight state of torpor in order to conserve energy. Come early morning, they will then sunbathe – they will position their scapular feathers and expose their black skin which can then absorb sunlight and warm their body. Of course, they then also have to face the scorching heat of the day. They halve their activity during midday in order to survive in such a variable climate. Along with being opportunistic, the roadrunner is adaptable and these traits help it to succeed in harsh environments.
A wonderful fact about roadrunners is that they leave behind a distinct ‘X’ track mark, making them appear as though they are travelling in both directions and it was said that this throws off malignant spirits. It also looks like they are leaving a trail of kisses in their wake!
Roadrunners are monogamous, mate for life and (at least the greater ones) defend a large territory. For the greater roadrunner, bonds are renewed each spring and summer through a series of elaborate display. The male will bow and prance, wag his tail and offer the female nesting materials and food. Both parents will help to build a nest with the male collecting the materials – sticks, grass, feathers and sometimes snakeskin and cow manure – and the female doing most of the construction. Nests are built a few feet off the ground, in a bush or low tree and those of the lesser roadrunners are smaller, but stronger and more compact than nests of the greater roadrunner. Mum and dad will incubate the eggs and once hatched, will feed and protect the chicks.
The Greater Roadrunner has many names, including Snake Killer and Medicine Bird which gives us some insight into how they have been viewed. There was a belief that they could protect against evil spirits and their feathers were used to decorate cradleboards which would offer the baby spiritual protection. For some tribes it was good luck to see one and for others they were seen as sacred, revered for their speed and bravery. For most Mexican Indian tribes, roadrunner meat was used as a folk remedy to cure illness and to boost strength and stamina.
There is a Mayan story about how the king of the birds was chosen explains the roadrunners drab colouring. Originally roadrunner was a beauty, covered in magnificent feathers and very impressive with emerald green wings and a long shimmering tail. Quetzal however was dull but had a brilliant mind and wanted to be king. But because of his appearance couldn’t convince the other birds that he was right for the job. He persuaded roadrunner to lend him his plumage, just for a little while so he could impress the others. He was declared king but once he was crowned he became very busy and forgot that he was supposed to return the feathers to roadrunner. The other birds realised roadrunner was missing and organised a search. He was found featherless, cold and hungry. When all the birds heard what had happened, they each gave roadrunner one of their feathers. Today, roadrunner still wears a strange mix of feathers and runs around calling ‘puhuy?’, meaning ‘where is he?’.