“Beep, beep!” Roadrunners hurry to Paignton Zoo

(Last Updated On: April 9, 2019)

A new species at Paignton Zoo will evoke fond memories for a generation of cartoon fans. The name Californian earth-cuckoo may not mean much to you, but say roadrunner to people of a certain age and it conjures up images of cartoon capers, usually with unfortunate outcomes for a certain not-so wily coyote…

A pair of roadrunners has arrived in Devon from Arnhem Zoo. Paignton Zoo has never had the species before – and there are no roadrunners in any other UK zoos.

The greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a long-legged bird of the cuckoo family from the South West USA and Mexico. The Latin name means “Californian earth-cuckoo”; other common names include the chaparral cock, ground cuckoo and snake killer.

Paignton Zoo Senior Head Bird Keeper Peter Smallbones is impressed by his new charges: “This bird hunts by chasing down its prey on foot. In the wild it has a pretty scary diet, including tarantulas, scorpions, lizards and small – often venomous – snakes. It kills prey by holding victims in its bill and hitting them on the ground.”

Their zoo diet is a little less formidable, and includes small mice, Morio worms, locusts and meat balls. Pete: “There’s a small population of roadrunners in zoos that are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. They needed other zoos to help expand and support the population. We volunteered to take a pair – we hope they will breed in due course.”

Another fascinating fact about this species is that it is a member of the cuckoo family – although this doesn’t mean it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. The majority of cuckoo species build their own nests, although a large minority engage in what’s known as brood parasitism.

The cartoon characters of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner have been battling it out in the famous Warner Bros. animations since 1949. Despite the cartoon evidence, roadrunners do not go “beep, beep” – in fact, they make a variety of sounds, including something even better, more akin to a Taser… Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.

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