Animal of the Month
January 2018

Name: Greater Roadrunner

Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Subfamily: Neomorphinae
Genus: Geococcyx
Species: Geococcyx californianus

Size: Two feet long
Weight: N/A

Characteristics: Small beak, long neck, yellow eyes, crest on head. Tail feathers as long as or longer than whole body.
Color(s): Black and brown speckled-feathers, lighter-colored feathers on throat and chest with stripes. Long dark tail. Males have patches of red and blue on the sides of their heads.
Behavior: Diurnal, hunts by traveling quickly on the ground, flees when startled.
Preferred Habitat: Deserts, open woodlands, grasslands and dense shrubs.
Range: Across the Continental United States including Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California and Kansas. Also found ex-tensively through Mexico.
Diet: Snakes, lizards, scorpions, ground nesting birds, spiders, seeds, mice, fruit and insects.
Lifespan: N/A

Status: Least Concern

Made famous in Loony Tunes as Wile E. Coyote's nemesis, the greater roadrunner is a longtime denizen of the deserts, grasslands and woodlands of the American South and Mexico. Greater roadrunners are members of the cuckoo family. This bird is especially known for its fast-paced, land-bound lifestyle. It rarely flies (and poorly at that) but it can run on the ground at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour!

Roadrunners have a varied diet, but mostly eat snakes. They also eat lizards, fruit, seeds, scorpions, mice, spiders, ground-nesting birds, or anything else they can catch. The greater roadrunner is certainly not a picky eater! They hunt for their food by traveling on the ground at a brisk speed, bursting into a quick run upon finding prey.

Roadrunners have a pigmented skin. In the morning, roadrunners will extend their feathers and sit with the sun to their backs. Their black skin will absorb the energy from the sun, thus boosting their body heat without using up extra energy. Roadrunners will often present their mate with a twig as an offering. They are also known for chasing potential mates around. Once bonded, a roadrunner pair may mate for life. They build their nests out of mesquite, cholla or palo verde. A female roadrunner will lay up to six eggs. If there is not enough food to go around, the stronger chicks will eat most of the food and the weaker ones will starve. If these famine conditions continue, the stronger chicks will eat the weaker chicks!

The greater roadrunner is a very common species and currently is not endangered. However, they are no longer common in parts of California due to urban development. There is also a myth that greater roadrunners overhung a species of quail, thus they are often targeted by hunters. Roadrunners will eat anything they can find and are not in direct competition with hunters for quail or any other species.

Though the Loony Tunes depiction of the roadrunner has become iconic, it delivers a titanic misconceptions. The Loony Tunes roadrunner is shown to be at least five feet tall, around the size of an ostrich. Real roadrunners are only about two feet long. The Loony Tunes roadrunner is also famous for it's call "Beep-beep!". Roadrunners actually make a sound more like "cooo-cooo" or "krooo-krooo" as well as a sharp rattling noise. Furthermore, the Looney Tunes roadrunner is shown as having a very small body, an incredibly long neck and very long legs with light and dark blue plumage. Real roadrunners have a much shorter neck, a far larger body and shorter legs with black, brown and white feathers. The only attribute that Looney Tunes appears to have gotten right is that the road-runner has a crest and a long tail, though the crest looks more like wavy hair, and the tail is also curly and flows when he runs. Real roadrunners do not have a crest or a tail in this manner.

The wacky but inaccurate Loony Tunes Road Runner

It's perfectly fine to enjoy the creativity and hilarity of cartoons on TV. However, it's important to remember that what you see on TV is not always accurate. Be sure to be on the lookout for misconceptions of animals in the media; each myth generates more false information and confusion in the public!

If you would like to know more about the Greater Roadrunner and help conserve desert species, check out these awesome websites:

All About Birds Greater Roadrunner Page-detailed information on the Greater Road-runner

Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection-dedicated to protecting the Sonoran Desert and it's wildlife.


Contact Us