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    Greater Roadrunner Identification

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Distinctive shape, with long neck and legs, and a very long tail. Mostly brown with bold streaks over most of the body, and a lighter buffy belly. Distinct crest and long, heavy bill.

    © Lawrence Haller | Macaulay Library Texas, September 20, 2016

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    During the breeding season can show bright blue and red facial skin.

    © Charles Lyon | Macaulay Library Oklahoma, March 12, 2017

    Greater Roadrunner Adult
    Adult

    Typically forages in open areas for insects, arachnids, centipedes, millipedes, lizards, snakes, and carrion. Also takes adult birds, young, and eggs.

    © Timothy Barksdale | Macaulay Library Arizona, February 01, 1997

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Prefers to run on the ground rather than flying. Calls with a nasal “meep meep” when running away from danger.

    © Nancy Christensen | Macaulay Library California, March 09, 2017

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Large with a very long tail and a slightly crested head. Back and underparts are heavily streaked.

    © Jeff Bray | Macaulay Library California, January 10, 2017

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    When flying shows broad, rounded wings with glossy dark feathers, and usually spreads the long tail.

    © Moe Bertrand | Macaulay Library Arizona, November 14, 2015

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Eats a variety of prey, including lizards and snakes.

    © Richard Taylor | Macaulay Library Texas, March 24, 2017

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    In cold weather will sometimes expose black feathers and skin on the lower back.

    © Jeff Bray | Macaulay Library California, December 08, 2016

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Will sing or scan for danger from exposed perches.

    © Darren Clark | Macaulay Library Nevada, March 11, 2016

    Greater Roadrunner Adult

    Adult

    Typically occurs in dry, fairly open to scrubby habitats.

    © Walter Piper | Macaulay Library California, February 04, 2017

    See more images of this species in Macaulay Library

    Compare with Similar Species

    Click on an image to compare

    Ring-necked Pheasant Female is similar to Greater Roadrunner Ring-necked Pheasant
    Scaled Quail Adult is similar to Greater Roadrunner Scaled Quail

    The Four Keys to ID

    • Size & Shape

      Greater Roadrunners are large cuckoos with a distinctive shape: long legs, a very long, straight tail, and a long neck. The head has a short crest and the bill is long, heavy, and slightly downcurved.

      Relative Size

      Larger than a Rock Pigeon; about the size (but more slender than) a Common Raven.

      Relative Sizecrow sizedcrow-sized

      Measurements
      • Both Sexes
        • Length: 20.5-21.3 in (52-54 cm)
        • Weight: 7.8-19.0 oz (221-538 g)
        • Wingspan: 19.3 in (49 cm)

    Greater Roadrunner © Lawrence Haller | Macaulay Library

  • Color Pattern
  • Behavior
  • Habitat
  • Species in This Family

    Cuckoos (Order: Cuculiformes, Family: Cuculidae )

    Smooth-billed Ani Smooth-billed Ani
    Groove-billed Ani Groove-billed Ani
    Greater Roadrunner Greater Roadrunner
    Yellow-billed Cuckoo Yellow-billed Cuckoo
    Mangrove Cuckoo Mangrove Cuckoo
    Black-billed Cuckoo Black-billed Cuckoo

    Browse Species in This Family

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    Greater Roadrunner

    • Overview
    • ID Info
    • Life History
    • Maps
    • Sounds


    The Roadrunner – Bird

    Popularized in Warner Brothers Cartoons

     

    Roadrunner - Bird

    The legendary roadrunner bird is famous for its distinctive appearance, its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in Warner Bros. cartoons.

    The roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill.

    It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind.

    When the roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short, rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers walking or running (up to 17 miles per hour) usually with a clownish gait.

    Vocalization

    The roadrunner makes a series of 6 to 8, low, dovelike coos dropping in pitch, as well as a clattering sound by rolling mandibles together.

    Tail

    The roadrunner has a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.

    Legs

    The roadrunner has long stout legs.

     

    Behavior

    • The roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations:
    • Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food.
      It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
    • A nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.
    • It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday.
      Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair.

    Habitat

    The roadrunner inhabits open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry brush, chaparral or other desert scrub.

    Food & Hunting

    The roadrunner feeds almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and other birds. Up to 10 % of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of the year.

    Because of its lightening quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes. Using its wings like a matador’s cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground till dead.

    It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.

    Breeding

    When spring arrives, the male roadrunner, in addition to acquiring food for himself, offers choice morsels to a female as an inducement to mating. He usually dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.

    Both parents collect the small sticks used for building a shallow, saucer-like nest, but the female actually constructs it in a bush, cactus or small tree. She then lays from 2 to 12 white eggs over a period of 3 days, which results in staggered hatching. Incubation is from 18-20 days and is done by either parent, though preferably the male, because the nocturnally incubating males maintain normal body temperature.

    The first to hatch often crowd out the late-arriving runts, which are sometimes eaten by the parents. Usually only 3 or 4 young are finally fledged from the nest after about 18 days. These remain near the adults for up to 2 more weeks before dispersing to the surrounding desert.

    In the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of California where there is only one rainy season, roadrunners nest in spring, the only time there is abundant prey to raise a brood. In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, they breed again in August or September after summer rains increase their food sources.

     

    A roadrunner life does have its dangers. Roadrunners are occasionally preyed upon by hawks, house cats, raccoons, rat snakes, bullsnakes, skunks, and, coyotes eat nestlings and eggs. During the winter months, many succumb to freezing, icy weather.

     

    Roadrunner

    Geococcyx californianus

    Phylum: Chordata
    Subphylum: Vertebrata
    Class: Aves
    Subclass: Neornithes
    Order: Cuculiformes
    Family: Cuculidae
    Genus: Geococcyx
    Species: californianus

     

    Geography – Range

    Throughout the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan and southern Great Basin deserts. They are in all the Southwestern states.

    Curious Facts

    Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat rattlesnakes.

    Roadrunners prefer walking or running and attain speeds up to 17 mph. hour

    The roadrunner is also called the chaparral cock.

    The roadrunner reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.

    The roadrunner’s nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.

    The roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.

    Vital Stats

    Weight: 8-24 oz.

    Length: 20-24 inches

    Height: 10-12"


    Sexual Maturity
    : 2-3 yrs.
    Mating Season: Spring
    Incubation: 18-20 days
    No. of Eggs: 2-12
    Birth Interval: 1 year

    Lifespan: 7 to 8 years

    Typical diet: insects, lizards, snakes

    Related Species

    Roadrunners are ground cuckoos, as are any of about 15 species of birds constituting the subfamily Neomorphinae of the cuckoo family (Cuculidae), noted for terrestrial habits. There are 11 New World species, 3 of which lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.

    Other ground cuckoos include the Morococcyx erythropygus, a species widespread in Central America and 5 species of Neomorphus, found from Costa Rica to Bolivia. Three species of the very large Carpococcyx, are found in Southeast Asia and acquire a length of 24 inches.

    Comparisons

    The two species of roadrunners include the lesser roadrunner (G. velox) a slightly smaller, buffier and less streaky bird, of Mexico and Central America, which grows to a length of 18 inches.

     

    — A.R. Royo

    Books on the Roadrunner

    The Roadrunner Book 39 color photos

    Lizards for Lunch Book A Roadrunner tale, with a Roadrunner plush toy


     


     

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