A member of the cuckoo family, the greater roadrunner is a desert bird that moves quickly, racing at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
1. Scientific & Common Names
4. Present Status
Scientific & Common Names
The greater roadrunner was so named for its swiftness. When startled, this bird will run rather than try to fly away. Biologists know this bird as Geococcyx californianus.
The greater roadrunner is about 2 feet long. The largest kind of cuckoo, the greater roadrunner has a long tail that is used as a sort of rudder to help the bird balance when running. The bird's plumage is a mottled brown with black touches. Roadrunners have shaggy crests and colorful splotches of blue and orange skin behind their eyes. These bird, like all cuckoos, have 4 toes on each foot, 2 toes facing forward and 2 toes facing backward.
Roadrunners mate for life, with the same pairs seeking one another out each spring. They have an intricate courting display, after which females will lay from 2 to 6 eggs in a nest several feet off of the ground. After incubating the eggs for about 4 weeks, the clutch will hatch. Greater roadrunners often raise two sets of babies each year.
Greater roadrunners are omnivores, eating both plant matter and animals. However, the roadrunner prefers to eat insects, small rodents, snakes, and lizards. The roadrunner is a wonderful predator because it is so quick. It walks right up to the prey and snatches it. Greater roadrunners ingest many poisonous animals, like rattlesnakes, horned lizards, and scorpions with no ill effects. Roadrunners prefer to keep to established paths and cleared areas so that they can run to avoid predators and find food. These birds don't fly well at all. After cool nights in the desert, roadrunners sunbathe in the mornings with their backs to the rising sun and their wings spread.
Native American tribes held special beliefs regarding the greater roadrunner. They revered and respected these birds because of their courage, swiftness, endurance, and strength.
The greater roadrunner lives in habitats all across the Southwest.They have also been observed in southwestern Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. Because of their great adaptability, greater roadrunners are not considered endangered, with populations numbering over 1 million.