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Don Sorchych

Pets and wildlife

My wife Shari Jo and I live on the outskirts of Cave Creek and have had many wildlife encounters and stories. We once raised six hybrid wolves; all of them died between ages 15 and 16. Even though they were penned in an acre, they forced wildlife away from the house. 

Now we have only Emily Esther Marie, a rescued dog who is 12 and of mixed parentage. On the west side of the house she is restricted by a wall (and protected from snakes). On the east side of the house she is allowed out when she wants; her humans play doormen. If she sees a snake we hear her unmistakable snake bark and she stands off until we come to remove the threat. 

Nonetheless, her hearing and smell alert her to most wildlife in the area. Shari Jo has two water oases which have attracted deer, coyotes, foxes, snakes, hawks, bobcats, roadrunners, javelina, songbirds, quail and ground squirrels. 

Once we had two grey foxes nesting in a pine tree until Emily barked at them and they haven't been back since. 

bil canfield cartoon
But, in all that, roadrunners have become our favorites. Terry Grasse was our Sonoran News receptionist years ago and her husband Herb was an accomplished artist and illustrator. He designed the Bricklin's auto body, for example. A power line was to be constructed near their house on Scottsdale Road and Herb said if we took pictures he would illustrate the view with the power lines superimposed.

Terry asked if I had ever seen a roadrunner pet; I said they couldn't be tamed. Terry went to the refrigerator and got some hamburger bits. She led me to their patio, whistled a few times and just like Disney's portrayal of a roadrunner, a male ran across the yard to us and ate hamburger out of Terry's extended fingers. 

Herb said in the winter time the bird went from window to window and when he spied Herb he would peck on the window until he was let in. After a while he would peck on the window to be let out. 

In our case we have watched both male and female roadrunners for years. We have seen them pluck up baby quail, snakes, bugs and even seeds for food. We have found they are territorial and protective of their territories. However, we have never seen their nests or young babies. Shari Jo recognizes their trills and sees them on our rooftop. We grew to love their funny run and short flights when they are disturbed. 

Several years ago a pair arrived and they were often seen around our yard. Especially the male, and sometimes the female, would come on our bedroom porch on the north side of the house. The bedroom doors are sliding glass and for some inexplicable reason a past owner had covered the windows with a transparent sun screen although that side of the house never gets direct sun light. 

When the roadrunners see their reflected images they peck up down and around, sometimes waking us in the early hours. Apparently they think their images are territory interlopers they are trying to drive away. 

Our local roadrunners left us for a couple of years but a pair has recently emerged. We see them on the north side of the house where Emily can’t disturb them. We wondered whether they would peck on the windows and they do, just like our past "friends." 

We often see them gathering nesting materials. Neither we nor anyone we know have ever seen baby roadrunners. I have seen photos of babies with their mouths open for food but not immature roadrunners. If anyone has pictures of baby roadrunner chicks I would love to see them. 

But the essence of our story about roadrunners is this: 

Shari Jo came home the other afternoon and saw the female. The male strutted up with a dead snake in his mouth maybe 9 inches long. They mated with the male holding the snake in his mouth. The male then gave the snake to the female and she gobbled it down. Unfortunately, Shari Jo was talking on her phone rendering her camera and video unavailable to memorialize the event. 

We were astounded, but I read that specific male ritual is built into their culture; they both usually eat the prey he has brought to the party. 

We still see them gathering nest material and will do our best to get pictures of roadrunner babies.