Photo: Christopher Schwarz/Audubon Photography Awards

Greater Roadrunner

Geococcyx californianus

The most famous bird in the southwest, featured in folklore and cartoons, known by its long tail and expressive crest. The Roadrunner walks and runs on the ground, flying only when necessary. It can run 15 miles per hour, probably with much faster spurts when chasing a fast-running lizard or other prey. Its prowess as a rattlesnake fighter has been much exaggerated, but it does eat a remarkable variety of smaller creatures.
Conservation status Periodically expands range to north and east, is killed back by severe winters. May be in long-term decline in California.
Family Cuckoos, Roadrunners, Anis
Habitat Deserts, open country with scattered brush. Most common in Sonoran desert and in other kinds of brushy country, including chaparral and Texas brushlands, in areas with a mix of open ground and dense low cover. At limits of range, found in dry grassland, forest edges, and limestone hills with scattered junipers.
The most famous bird in the southwest, featured in folklore and cartoons, known by its long tail and expressive crest. The Roadrunner walks and runs on the ground, flying only when necessary. It can run 15 miles per hour, probably with much faster spurts when chasing a fast-running lizard or other prey. Its prowess as a rattlesnake fighter has been much exaggerated, but it does eat a remarkable variety of smaller creatures.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Usually hunts by walking rapidly, looking for prey, then making very rapid dash forward to catch prey in its bill. May leap straight up from ground to catch insects or birds flying over (has been seen catching hummingbirds this way).


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 2-6. White to pale yellowish. Incubation is by both parents (male does more), about 20 days. Young: Fed by both parents; leave the nest after about 18-21 days. May begin catching own food soon after leaving nest, but still fed by parents up to another 30-40 days.


Young

Fed by both parents; leave the nest after about 18-21 days. May begin catching own food soon after leaving nest, but still fed by parents up to another 30-40 days.

Diet

Includes insects, reptiles, rodents, birds. Feeds on many large insects, plus other arthropods including scorpions, tarantulas, and centipedes. Also catches many lizards, snakes, mice, young ground squirrels, small birds (including baby quail and adult sparrows), sometimes snails. Eats some fruits (especially cactus fruit) and seeds.


Nesting

May mate for life, pairs defending territory all year. Courtship includes chases on foot, with frequent pauses to rest. One bird (either sex) approaches the other with stick or blade of grass, and drops it on the ground or gives it to other bird. In other displays, male runs away from female with tail and wings raised over back, gradually lowers wings; male wags tail from side to side while slowly bowing. Nest site is in dense bush, low tree, or cactus, usually 2-12' above ground, rarely on ground. Nest is platform of sticks, lined with grass, leaves, feathers, sometimes with snakeskin or pieces of cow manure.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident, but some (young birds?) may wander considerable distances.

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Migration

Permanent resident, but some (young birds?) may wander considerable distances.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Clucks, crows, dove-like coos, dog-like whines, and hoarse guttural notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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