The roadrunner is known throughout the world for its role as Road Runner in the Looney Tunes cartoons of Warner Bros. Regretfully this bird is doing less well in the world of zoos. It is a very difficult to breed animal species with only 18 of them in European zoos at this time. Therefore, a dating centre had been set up behind the scenes in the bird department of Burgers' Zoo. Like this we tried to have the birds form pairs the natural way. But only through careful observation we learned which birds like each other the most.
Roadrunners are very picky in choosing a partner. During the period of courtship the male really goes out of his way to win the female over. He offers her food, dances around beautifully and makes quite a few sounds. When the female is interested, she too shows some striking behaviour. Once the birds have found a partner, they live together as a pair for years. Both parents incubate the eggs and together they take care of the young birds. If they do not hit it off, then the male and female can be in one area for years, without there ever being any offspring.
In December of 2015 four new roadrunners came to our park from German zoos. Together with the four birds from our own collection there are now five males and three females in Arnhem. Once the newcomers became settled behind the scenes after a while, it was time to look for a partner for them. Multiple birds could get to know one another, but still with the fence between them. Some birds seemed to be interested in each other, so these birds were put together as a pair. As roadrunners can be rather aggressive, good control is needed for this.
Not all pairs seemed to be a good combination; sometimes the interest waned after a few days. Or the interest was not mutual. After some switching around and moving, two permanent pairs have been created. In the meantime one of these pairs has already laid an egg! We will have to wait a bit to see if the egg was fertilized and whether a chick will actually be born. We hope for a positive outcome and are very curious about the further developments. For now we will definitely continue the dating program behind the scenes by documenting the observation of pairs and by recording behavioural information. All this information is important in order to be able to predict whether or not newly formed pairs will hit it off. And perhaps you will see a roadrunner chick walk around this year!