Texas’ newest license plates star the roadrunner, a bird as tough as your pickup truck


The speedy greater roadrunner is the newest creature to be featured on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department license plates that raise money for wildlife education and habitat conservation in the state.

In American pop culture, the fast-running bird is known for beep-beeping and outlasting the ornery Wile E. Coyote over and over in cartoons. But in real life, the greater roadrunner (geococcyx californianus) — part of the cuckoo family (cuculidae) — would rather grab a rattlesnake for lunch and coo or make clicking sounds with its beak.

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The roadrunner now is one of 11 species to be featured on Texas license plates, supporting conservation programs such as the Great Texas Wildlife Trails, Texas Paddling Trails and Great Texas Birding Classic. Plates with the roadrunner, horned lizard, largemouth bass, hummingbird or even a pretty bluebonnet are $30, with $22 of it going to the TPWD. In the last 22 years, sales of the plates have raised $10.5 million. You can buy the plate at www.conservationplate.org/roadrunner.

“The greater roadrunner eating is an iconic image for Texans that can be seen in every county of the state and is one of the toughest birds around—it’s even known for rattlesnakes,” said Shelly Plante, TPWD’s Nature Tourism manager. “It’s also one of the few birds people recognize and remember the first time they see it, given its unique profile — all of which makes it the perfect symbol for Texas wildlife viewing and nature tourism.”

Though the bird can reach 2 feet tall and runs around 18 miles an hour with its neck stretched forward, the plate shows the bird in a more regal pose, standing upright in what TPWD calls its “proud, confident stance.”

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The roadrunner image was donated to the project by wildlife photographer Hector Astorga, a native of Honduras who is the manager of the Santa Clara Ranch in South Texas. Astorga leads wildlife photography tours there and around the world.

Roadrunners can peck a rattlesnake to death before eating it; they also eat insects, lizards, rodents and other birds. While these mate-for-life birds are a more common sight in West Texas and open areas with a scrubby habitat, they can occasionally be seen in the Houston area.

diane.cowen@chron.com

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