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File:Roadrunner DeathValley.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Subfamily: Neomorphinae
Genus: Geococcyx
Wagler, 1831

G. californianus
G. velox

The roadrunner is a fast-running bird that has a long tail and a crest. The bird is found in southwestern United States and Mexico. The roadrunner is also called a chaparral bird and a chaparral cock.[1][2]


Roadrunners are ground cuckoos and include about fifteen species of birds from the subfamily Neomorphinae of the Cuckoo Family (Cuculidae). Roadrunners are in the genus Geococcyx.[3][4] Two species of roadrunners are the Greater Roadrunner and the Lesser Roadrunner. The Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus inhabits Mexico and the southwestern United States. The Lesser Roadrunner, Geococcyx velox inhabits Mexico and Central America.[5][6]


Roadrunners generally range in size from 18 inches (46 cm) to 22 inches (56 cm) from tail to beak. Their average weight is about eight to fifteen ounces.[7] The roadrunner is a large, slender, black-brown and white streaked ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has long legs, strong feet, and an oversized dark bill. The tail is broad with white tips on the three outer tail feathers. The bird has a bare patch of skin behind each eye; this patch is shaded blue anterior to red posterior. The lesser roadrunner is slightly smaller, not as streaky, and has a smaller bill. The roadrunner is terrestrial; although capable of flight, it spends most of its time on the ground. During flight, the wings are short and rounded and reveal a white crescent in the primary feathers. Roadrunners and other members of the cuckoo family have zygodactyl feet (two toes in front and two toes in back). Roadrunners can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h)[8] and generally prefer sprinting to flying. Roadrunners will fly to escape predators.


File:Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) 2.jpg

The roadrunner has a dove-like "coo" that is slow and descending. It also makes a rapid, vocalized clattering sound with its beak.

Ogg vorbis file of clattering sound made with beak. Roadrunner Clatter.ogg

Geographic range

The roadrunner is an inhabitant of the deserts of Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America.

Food and foraging habits


Roadrunners are omnivores and are opportunistic. Their diet normally consists of insects (such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and beetles), small reptiles (such as lizards and snakes, including rattlesnakes), rodents and small mammals, tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, spiders, snails, small birds, eggs, nestlings, and fruits and seeds like prickly pear cactus and sumac. The lesser roadrunner eats mainly insects. Roadrunners forage on the ground and, when hunting, usually run after prey from under cover. They may leap to catch insects, and commonly batter certain prey against the ground. Because of its lightning quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes.[10]

Geococcyx is the only real predator of the tarantula hawk wasps.[11]

Behavior and breeding

Roadrunners are commonly solitary birds or live in pairs. They are monogamous and a pair may mate for life. Pairs may hold a territory all year. During the courtship display, the male bows, alternately lifting and dropping his wings and spreading his tail. He parades in front of the female with his head high and his tail and wings drooped. It has also been documented that the male may bring an offering of food to the female.

  • Nest: Roadrunners' nests are often on a platform nest composed of sticks (nests may sometimes contain leaves, snakeskins, or dung). The nest is commonly placed in a low tree, bush, or cactus.
  • Clutch: Hatching is asynchronous and average a 2-6 egg clutch (the Lesser Roadrunners clutch size is typically smaller). Eggs are generally a white color.
  • Parental care and sizes: Roadrunners have bi-parental care. Both sexes incubate the nest and feed the hatchlings, but males incubate the nest at night. For the first one to two weeks after the young hatch, one parent always remains at the nest. After the hatchlings are two to three weeks old they leave and never return to the nest. For a few days thereafter, the parents and young forage together.
  • Reproductive Season: spring to mid-summer depending upon species and geographic location.[12]


During the cold desert night, the roadrunner lowers its body temperature slightly, going into a slight torpor to conserve energy. To warm itself during the day, the roadrunner exposes dark patches of skin on its back to the sun.[13]

In popular culture


  1. ^ Farlex. "The Free Dictionary by Farlex". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster. "roadrunner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Desert USA. "The Roadrunner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Avian Web. "Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Avian Web. "Greater Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Avian Web. "Lesser Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  7. ^ The Animal Spot. "Desert Animals: Roadrunner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Lockwood, Mark. Basic Texas birds: a field guide. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 168–169. ISBN 978-0-292-71349-9. 
  9. ^ Avian Web. "Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  10. ^ DesertUSA. "The Roadrunner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Avian Web. "Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  12. ^ Avian Web. "Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Avian Web. "Roadrunners". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  14. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica. "Road Runner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "Range Photo". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Desert USA. "The Roadrunner". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  17. ^ " Official website of The University of Texas at San Antonio Athletics Department". Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of BIRDS edited by Dr. Christopher M. Perrins ISBN 0-13-083635-4
  • Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia edited by Michael Hutchins ISBN 0-7876-5785-9
  • Handbook of Birds of the World edited by Josep del Hoyo et al. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
  • Smithsonian: Birds of North America by Fred J. Alsop III ISBN 0-7894-8001-8
  • Harrison, George. 2005. Comical Cuckoo. Birder's World, 19:56-58.
  • Meinzer, Wyman. 1993. Beep! Beep! Better pull over, folks-it's the roadrunner. Smithsonian, 23: 58

External links

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