In 1949, New Mexico's state legislature adopted the roadrunner as the state bird of New Mexico. Interestingly, the resolution proclaiming it the state bird of New Mexico refers to the roadrunner as the chaparral bird, which is another name for the bird. In Spanish, the bird is called el correcaminos, which translates to "the roadrunner" in English. The scientific name of the state bird of New Mexico is Geococcyx californianus.
Regardless of the name, this bird was adopted as the state bird of New Mexico because of its long historical association with the state. Several southwestern groups of American Indians believed that the spirit of the roadrunner had magical powers: for example, the Hopi used an “X” on Kachina figures to confound malicious spirits because the roadrunner’s footprint is in the shape of an “X” and doesn’t allow trackers to know which way the bird is going. Early settlers to the state were advised that, if they were lost, a roadrunner would always lead them back to the correct path.
Roadrunners are large members of the cuckoo family of birds. Mature roadrunners are 20-24 inches (50-62 cm) long, have wingspans of 17-24 inches (43-61 cm) and weigh 8-12 ounces (227-341 g). In appearance, the plumage of the state bird of New Mexico is a dark grayish brown, mottled with streaks of buff and white, which help camouflage the bird in the cactus and mesquite terrain where it nests. Males and females resemble each other in plumage and size.
The most distinguishing physical characteristics of these birds are their very long legs and tails. A roadrunner’s tail is about half the length of its body. Roadrunners are ground-dwelling birds that are weak flyers and take to the air only occasionally, if danger is sensed. Its long legs and strong feet help the roadrunner run as fast as 15 miles (24 km) per hour, and its long tail helps the bird balance and turn fast when running. As the Hopi noticed when tracking them, roadrunners have two toes that face forward and two toes that face backward, which also help in running and balancing.
Foot pursuit plays a role in the daily life of roadrunners, not only in chasing prey but in courtship behavior. The male roadrunner pursues the female on foot, resting often. He tempts her with morsels of food, such as snake or lizard. If she accepts, they will mate, and it’s usually for life.