Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Roadrunner petroglyph at 3-Rivers (with
footprint above him), New Mexico.
Photograph Jack and Esther Faris, 1988.
Roadrunner tracks, St. George, Utah.
 A distinctive bird in the American Southwest is the Roadrunner (Geococcyx californicus). Not only is the roadrunner a bird with remarkable habits and abilities, it has a remarkable footprint consisting of a curved "X" shape. There is a petroglyph at the 3-Rivers site in New Mexico that shows a roadrunner along with his footprint. Perhaps this is like the name glyphs used to identify individuals in Ledger Book art. The distinctive footprint pointing out the identity of the bird.

Roadrunner petroglyph at 3-Rivers, New Mexico.
Photograph Jack and Esther Faris, 1988.
Roadrunner petroglyph at 3-Rivers, New Mexico.
Photograph Margaret Harris, 1987.

Once, at Galisteo Dike, south of Santa Fe, while focused upon the marvelous petroglyphs, I found myself attracted to movements out of the corner of my eye, way out at the edge of my peripheral vision. I looked that way a couple of times but saw nothing. Then, after another flicker attracted my attention, I sat down and just watched for a while. It was a warm morning and small lizards were crawling up on the patina-darkened cliffs to warm up. Then I saw what had attracted my attention - it was a roadrunner running up the cliff face to snatch a lizard before going back down. I watched for a number of minutes and saw a few repetitions of the performance before he (or she) quit and left. The roadrunner from 3 Rivers carved in a vertical pose on the rock reminds me of this. It even seems to carry a snake in its beak as it runs up the rock.
Roadrunner (Geococcyx californicus),
"The roadrunner, also known as a chaparral bird and a chaparral cock, is a fast-running ground cuckoo that has a long tail and a crest. It is found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, usually in the desert. Some have been clocked at 20 miles per hour (32 km/h)." (Wikipedia)
The genus Ceococcyx has just two (species), the greater roadrunner (G. californianus) inhabiting Mexico and the United States, and the lesser roadrunner (G. velox) inhabiting Mexico and Central America. (Wikipedia)
"The roadrunner is an opportunistic omnivore. Its diet normally consists of insects (such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and beetles), small reptiles (such as lizards and snakes, including rattlesnakes), rodents and small mammals, spiders (including tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, snails, small birds (and nestlings), eggs, and fruit, and seeds like those from prickly pear cactuses and sumacs." (Wikipedia)

"The roadrunner forages on the ground and, when hunting, usually runs after prey from under cover. It may leap to catch insects, and commonly batter(s) certain prey against the ground. Because of its quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes." (Wikipedia)

“Sityatki Polychrome, AD 1375-1625. Subject is the
hosh-boa, a bird called roadrunner or chaparral cock
which figured in an ancient Hopi courting ceremony.”
(Patterson 1992:95)
This last fact, that roadrunners actually are known to prey upon rattlesnakes, impressed the makers of mythology (and rock art as well) deeply. It impresses me deeply as well, having had a few encounters with rattlesnakes while out looking at rock art. Because of this, in much of the American southwest, the roadrunner is associated with warrior traits, and success in battle. This potential impact upon life and death has also led also to association with curing, and with security. (Tyler 1991:219-24) The roadrunner is definitely a remarkable and important character.


Patterson, Alex
1992    A Field Guide To Rock Art Symbols Of The Greater Southwest, Johnson Books, Boulder.

Tyler, Hamilton A.
1991    Pueblo Birds and Myths, Northland Publishing, Flagstaff.







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