Roadrunner nabs hummingbirds

Roadrunners don’t fly much; in fact, I’ve seen Greater Roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus) many times in the desert, but have never seen one leave the ground. After all, there’s a reason they’re called “roadrunners.”

But this one did levitate. According to the Audubon News site, photographer Roy Dunn saw the possibility of a roadrunner snatching a hummingbird from his feeder after the roadrunner had been lurking below it for some time.

During all that time watching hummingbirds, [Dunn] occasionally has had some company: a Greater Roadrunner. While Dunn lurked behind his camera, the carnivorous bird, which typically eats lizards and insects, would lurk at the base of a flowering cactus or a hummingbird feeder and wait for a feathery snack to stop by. Then, while the hummingbird is enjoying a sip of nectar—pounce! Even when ambushed, the hummingbird gets away most of the time; roadrunners only make a successful catch about once in 10 tries, Dunn says.

The first time Dunn saw a roadrunner attempt to catch a hummingbird has stuck with him. “It was really quite sensational to witness, and it made me feel a little uncomfortable,” he says. But he refuses to be squeamish about it. “Nature is nature, and I’m steadfast in my belief that it should be documented how it occurs.”

So this fall, Dunn set up a camera in his kitchen, frame fixed on a feeder. Then, he waited. Getting the video took patience, given the roadrunners’ failure rate. And natural photography aside, Dunn does meddle on the hummingbirds’ behalf to try and deter roadrunners from becoming too reliant on the high concentrations of hummers around his house. He, his wife, and his dog have all been known to chase roadrunners away from the feeders. “I’m not out to give the roadrunners a free lunch, put it that way,” he says.

But the day he made this video, Dunn didn’t scare the roadrunner off. Instead, he waited almost three hours to catch the right moment—and for the roadrunner to catch his meal. “He missed quite a few before he nailed one,” Dunn says. He was ready, with a camera that can stretch two seconds of action into twenty seconds of amazing action. “And once he nailed one, I raced out and chased him away!”

I think I would have chased the roadrunner away; natural selection be damned.

h/t: Ben W.


  1. Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Dinosaurs eating dinosaurs. Not something you see everyday. Beautiful capture! Tasty sweet treat (hummingbird is full of sugar water!)

  2. Jimmy Duke
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I volunteer at Big Bend National Park in south Texas. Waiting for a beautiful sunset last spring, I watched a roadrunner attempt to snatch a young desert cottontail that wandered too close. Oddly discomfiting to see it. I wondered how a bird without talons or hooked beak would kill and eat a rabbit half its size.

    • Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      They would probably it and beat it senseless against the ground, as one did with a gopher in this video.

      • Jimmy Duke
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        Youtube rarely disappoints – thanks.

      • busterggi
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        A few years ago I watched a Greater Black-winged Gull pummel a pigeon and drown it before dining.

        They do move in flocks.

    • Dee
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      I just got back from a road trip to Big Bend. A great park. There were road runners all over the place, doing the ‘tail up – tail down’ thing. I did see one with a lizard in his beak, down by the Rio Grande campground.

    • David Coxill
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      Off topic ,i went through Big Bend in August 2009 ,on the side of the road ,there was a place called Passing wind ,is it still there ?.
      There was a statue of liberty and a conning tower of a submarine ,very strange .
      And in August 2012 i took a load of photos of a Roadrunner in the Chino Hills in California ,at one point it was on top of a wall with what looked a leaf in it’s beak .

  3. Mike
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I,m with PCC, the Roadrunner would have got short shrift.

  4. Randy schenck
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Where is the coyote when you need one…

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Waiting for his next shipment from Acme.
      Never knew how he pays for all that stuff…

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        I believe he has a road running account at Acme.

  5. jeffery
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “Nature, red in tooth and claw”- it seems that ALL animals are “opportunists” to one extent or another: I’ve seen videos of cows eating chickens, deer eating dead fish (then there’s that video of the snake eating frog eggs at the edge of a pond, whereupon he’s devoured by a huge frog)- the videos on YouTube of Great Blue Herons are amazing- those critters will eat ANYTHING they can catch and get in their mouths. I used to have six bee hives, and it was discomfiting to watch as Flycatchers, Assassin Bugs, and Praying Mantises would wait near the entrance of the hive and grab one worker after another.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      A gruesome nature documentary segment that has stuck with me involved a species of pelican. The pelicans had a breeding colony on an islet. Some tens of miles away another species of bird, can’t remember what kind but they were sizable, had a breeding colony on an islet of their own.

      The pelicans had learned that at a certain time of day the adults at the other rookery would leave to feed. The pelicans would time their arrival to coincide with the adults leaving. Then they would land and waddle around at their leisure, tossing nestlings up into the air, catching them and swallowing them whole, one after another like eating Peeps out of a carton.

      • David Coxill
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        There is a clip on youtube of a Pelican in one of the parks in London ,i think it is Green or St James ,it managed to grab a Gull and managed to swallow it down .

        • David Coxill
          Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          Whoops ,just checked it was a Pigeon not a gull

  6. Barry Lyons
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    “Natural selection be damned” — funny!

  7. Matthew North
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Roadrunners gotta eat just like hummingbirds. It’s just a Southwest version of a Cooper’s hawk swooping down and getting small birds at a backyard bird feeder.

    • John Conoboy
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      We have a Cooper’s Hawk that sometimes visits our bird feeder. My wife watched the hawk and a roadrunner fighting in our yard one day. The hawk finally gave up.

  8. Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I think I would have chased the roadrunner away; natural selection be damned.

    They are notoriously dangerous to chase.

    It would have run into a tunnel painted on a wall or you’d have followed it off a cliff and a boulder would have fallen on you.

    • Matthew North
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink


  9. Matthew North
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink


    I’m way more concerned about the millions of birds killed by domestic cats than the occasional hummingbird nabbed by a roadrunner. Sorry Jerry, but you know it’s true.

    • Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      And why exactly are you addressing this to me, whose cats were always kept indoors? The remark seems like a gratuitous slap, and is not relevant to this thread at all.

      “Well, thanks for the post–but I’m more ocncerned about Y than X.”

      • Matthew North
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I really wasn’t trying to slap, or to be insulting and sorry if it seemed that way, maybe a dig though, because I so love wild birds in all their astonishing variations, including predatory birds like raptors, I just cringe every time I see neighborhood cats wandering the wooded area behind my house in the spring knowing that they’re on the prowl for adult birds and nestlings. I wish everyone were like you and kept their cats inside but, most people let their cats wander. Obviously I’m no cat lover.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted March 3, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          I wonder how many birds are lost to other birds compared to cats. And really shouldn’t the blame for cats on the prowl be with humans? Only a fool who must not like cats would let them wander.

        • nicky
          Posted March 5, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          Matthew, I have the same concerns as you do (only not just birds, but including my beloved Geckos and Chameleons), but I’m still a cat lover. You cannot blame cats for their killer instincts.

          And yes, there are good arguments to rid the world of feral cats, and of cats altogether in sensitive areas, such as oceanic islands. I see love of cats and recognising their sometimes nefarious slaughter as 2 different issues. Call me cognitively dissonant.

      • David Coxill
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        You tell him JC.

  10. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I had a similar experience which also ended in sadness. Roadrunners had nested in my backyard. When the fledgling left the nest we watched him run around the yard and then, suddenly, a cat grabbed the little guy. I ran after the cat but he jumped up on my wall, looked back, and then absconded with his prey.

  11. rickflick
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I can imagine this roadrunner’s skill is similar to early (dinosaur) birds before full flight had been achieved using the wings to move quickly and to control direction.

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Evidently the hummingbirds are also of the belief that ‘roadrunners don’t fly much’.

    That one feeding doesn’t seem to be taking evasive action even after the roadrunner has launched.


%d bloggers like this: