The Roadrunner Bird - Interesting Facts and Information

Beautiful colors of the greater roadrunner.
Beautiful colors of the greater roadrunner. | Source

General Information

The roadrunner gets its name because it can be often be seen just as its name implies, running down the road. Roadrunners prefer to run from danger rather than to fly and a flat smooth surface, such as a road, is easier to run on which allows them to run much faster. Most of us remember the Roadrunner cartoon where Wile E. Coyote tries to catch the Roadrunner, but never quite seems to be able to do it. In real life, a coyote would be able to outrun and catch the Roadrunner.

The roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family. There are 2 species of roadrunner, the Greater Roadrunner which it usually found in the Southwestern parts of the US and the Lesser Roadrunner which is normally found in Mexico and Central America. The Lesser Roadrunner is slightly smaller, about 18 inches in length and has fewer streaked markings. We will be talking about the Greater Roadrunner here, (Geococcyx californianus). This is the Latin name which means “California earth cuckoo".


Greater Roadrunner Habitat Map

The habitat of the Greater Roadrunner is actually increasing in size.
The habitat of the Greater Roadrunner is actually increasing in size. | Source

Habitat

The Greater Roadrunner can be found in many of the southwestern states of the US such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, as well as the southern parts of Colorado, Utah and Nevada and up to northern California. They are found in mainly arid and open desert areas. Over the years they have increased their range into parts of southern Missouri, western Arkansas and as far east as eastern Oklahoma and parts of Louisiana where the live in scrubby woods and open farmlands. As the human population continues to spread into their arid habitats, the roadrunner continues to adapt and move into less arid environments and can often be seen at the edge of smaller towns and cities.


Description

The Greater Roadrunners are approximately 22 inches long and weigh about 10.5 oz. They are tan or brown in color with black streaks on their chest and upper parts of their body and have a light under belly. Their wings are dark brown with white spots or streaks. They have a long straight tail which they use as a rudder when running and long strong legs that are slightly blue in color. Their strong legs are what enable them to run at up to 20 mph. Their neck is long and slender and they have a crest of black feathers with white spots on top of their head which they can raise and lower at will. They have a long bill, which is slightly curved downward at the end. Roadrunners have yellow eyes and the males have a small patch of bare, red and blue skin just behind their eyes, which is more obvious during breeding season. The roadrunner has very strong feet with 4 toes on each foot, two of them facing frontwards and two facing backwards, making a footprint resembling an X.

Male Roadrunner

Profile of a male greater roadrunner.
Profile of a male greater roadrunner. | Source

Speed and Agility

The roadrunner is known for its speed and can run approximately 20 mph, but can only fly for a few seconds. Their wings are not strong enough to keep their rather large bodies in the air for very long. When they run, they lean over, lower their head and stretching out their necks. They hold their tail straight out, with their body almost parallel to the ground. This makes them more aerodynamic and allows them to run faster. Using their long tail as a rudder makes them very agile birds, being able to quickly change directions and out maneuver their predators. Although roadrunners prefer to stay on the ground, you can see them perched atop posts or on fences as they scan the area for food. You may hear them making an almost dove like low pitched "cooing" sound.

Greater Roadrunner perched on a fence.
Greater Roadrunner perched on a fence. | Source

Diet

The roadrunner is a carnivorous bird, eating insects, frogs, rodents, scorpions, lizards and small snakes. They will even kill and eat rattlesnakes, giving them the nickname, "snake killer". They are very quick birds and can grab a rattlesnake by its tail or head and then will crack it like a whip, continuously slamming it against the ground. They swallow their prey whole and can be seen “running around” with part of a snake dangling from its mouth until they are able to digest it entirely. They are so quick they can snatch a hummingbird or dragonfly right out of the air! During the winter months, when insects and small animals are not prevalent, they will eat some seeds and fruit. They require little water as they derive much of their water from the bodies of their prey.

Mating and Nesting

The Greater Roadrunner will mate for life and in spring, the male will offer food to the female and do a little dance around her as she “begs” for the food. The male will hold the morsel of food during mating and the female only gets the food afterwards. The male roadrunner with gather sticks and twigs for nest building material and the female is responsible for actually building the nest. She will build the nest in low in cactus plants or low brush, close to the ground. The female will lay between 2 to 12 white eggs over a 3 day period, which will hatch in approximately 20 days. Both parents assist in incubation. The young will begin to leave the next after 18 to 21 days but will still be fed by their parents for up to 40 days.


The Greater Roadrunner

The greater roadrunner, standing in the road.
The greater roadrunner, standing in the road. | Source

Predators

Roadrunners are territorial birds and do not migrate. Although they may be fast running birds, they are still preyed upon by hawks and coyotes. Yes, Wile E. Coyote would be able to catch the Roadrunner. Raccoons, snakes and skunks will find and eat the roadrunner eggs. The average life span of the roadrunner is 7 to 8 years in the wild.

Interesting Facts

The Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico and they have a special place in Native American legends. In history, they have been revered for their courage and speed. The distinctive X shaped footprint has been used as a sacred symbol of the Pueblo Indians to ward off evil spirits.

Roadrunners have adapted to living in the arid deserts of the US and Mexico. For water conservation, the roadrunner excretes a highly concentrated solution of salt through a gland that is in front of each eye. This uses less water than passing the solution through their kidneys and urinary tract.

There is a small unfeathered area just below their “chin”, which they will “flutter” in order to dissipate heat, much like using a fan.

The roadrunner also knows to eat the horned lizard or “horny toad” head first, so the horns are pointing away from their vital organs.

Have you ever seen a roadrunner in the wild?

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44 comments

Margie Lynn profile image

Margie Lynn 3 months ago from Beautiful Texas Hill Country

We had lots of roadrunners when we moved into this house in 1989.Then they slowly disappeared. Now this last year here the are again. I love watching them! Thanks Sheliafor a great hub! Take care!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 14 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Patricia! I am so glad that you have been able to see a roadrunner "in person"! I think they are really enjoyable to watch. I hope you can get a good picture of one as they tend to be pretty fast!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 14 months ago from sunny Florida

Hi Sheila I HAD to come back. I am in Texas for a visit with my sister and for the first time in my life saw a roadrunner. It is so exciting to me as I have only the cartoon version in my head.

My plan is to hold vigil today in an effort to capture photos of one who lives in my sister's corner of this neighborhood which is so different from my own.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I can get just one that is half as good as the great photos you have shared.

Awesome article...

shared pinned g+ tweeted

Angels are once again on the way to you this morning ps


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 15 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

I do hope you get to see a road runner, Anne. They are fascinating birds to watch! Thank you for your support! :)


Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 16 months ago from Australia

One day I will see a road runner - a dream since being a child and growing upon cartoons! Thanks for such an interesting hub, voted up


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 19 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

I hope you get to see a roadrunner some day, they are really interesting and rather fun birds to watch! Thank you for stopping by!


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 19 months ago

When I visited the Southwest a number of years ago I looked high and low for the roadrunner, but unfortunately I didn't see one. These are really interesting birds and a great hub!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 20 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Hello, paintdrips! Due to the old cartoons, it seems that many people think they are bigger than what they are. A small, thin chicken is a good example. We don't see them often here, so I am still thrilled when I see one too! Thank you for stopping by!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 20 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Hello grand old lady! The cartoons did make them appear to be much larger than they really are. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub, thank you for stopping by!


PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 20 months ago from Fresno CA

Great hub. I saw one once in the wild and was surprised. I live in the central valley of California and have read a lot about the Road Runner as well as seen pictures, but visiting the Marine base in southern California 29 Palms was my first chance to actually see one. It is bigger than you think. I thought from pictures that it would be about the size of a mockingbird but they look a little more like a small chicken, a little thin but bigger than you expect. It was a thrill to see him run across the road in front of me.

Voted up.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 20 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Mel! When I was young, we lived in El Paso and had a week-end place at Caballo Lake in New Mexico. I grew up watching roadrunners and always enjoyed seeing them. I was so happy when we began to see roadrunners here in southern Oklahoma! They are amazing when catching and killing a rattlesnake! I would love to see that in person! Thank you for stopping by, Mel and have a great day!


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 20 months ago from Philippines

As a child I used to watch that Roadrunner cartoon, and always presumed they were as big as ostriches. I was surprised in grade school to learn how tiny they are. Your article is very interesting. Nice to know there is one bird that can kill a rattlesnake. The Roadrunner in another time might have been a dinosaur, from the way you describe it.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 20 months ago from San Diego California

I love Roadrunners. We have them back here in the dry canyonlands behind where I live. That video was remarkable. I know from personal experience that a rattlesnake is not easy to kill, and the way that Roadrunner so quickly dispatched it was amazing. Great hub!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

The roadrunner in the cartoon does seem to be quite large, doesn't he! The actual roadrunner is smaller than a chicken but larger than a crow. They are really amazing birds!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Hi Becky! My lab, Sadie has been bitten by a snake once. Her poor nose swelled up so big. She won't get too close anymore. She will stand back and bark until someone comes to see what the noise is all about. Meisha, my husky, doesn't see well any more and would probably be the one to get bitten. Hopefully, the roadrunners that we have seen on our place will continue to live here and keep the rattlers away!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Susie! I know, right! Who would expect to see a roadrunner, no larger than he is, attacking and eating a rattlesnake! I have seen then eat lizards before, but never a snake!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Jackie! God has given us so many precious gifts. I enjoy learning all I can about our wildlife and Mother Nature. Thank you so much for your kind comment and all your support!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Hello Mary! There are still a few of us around who remember watching the roadrunner cartoons! Thank you for stopping by and I appreciate all your kind comments and support! Have a wonderful day!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 21 months ago from New York

How interesting. We all watched as the road runner beat out Wile E. Coyote but most of us knew little of the facts of this amazing little bird. I love birds so appreciate the information to add to my knowledge base.

I think this hub would be a great teaching tool in Middle School when kids would be interested in the cartoon and the facts! Well done from start to finish. I really love the pictures, they are beautiful.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 21 months ago from The Beautiful South

So very interesting, Sheila! Just so fascinating with all these things I had no idea of. Just lets us know how loved we are with such wonderful gifts of life! Up and shared! ^+


colorfulone profile image

colorfulone 21 months ago from Minnesota

I would love to see some of these cute birds running around, Sheila. But oh my, that video shows a side of these birds that I never expected to see. Interesting article on these feathered friends.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Flourish! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. I found several things about the roadrunner that I didn't already know. I can appreciate them even more now. Have a wonderful day!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 21 months ago from USA

Meep meep, this is very interesting. I especially enjoyed the "interesting facts" section. What an adaptable bird to pee concentrated salt solution out of their eyes (more or less) and to know how not to become disembowled by a horned toad. Voted up and more!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you so much, Faith Reaper! It's really awesome to watch them run, but it is hard to get a picture of them doing so! I had one jump up on a table just outside my dining room window. When I heard pecking on the window and looked up, there he was trying to get some bugs off the windowsill. Thank you for all your support and I hope you have had a wonderful day!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Apparently the roadrunner is a pretty tough bird! I wouldn't want to have one get made at me! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have had wonderful day!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you so much, Peg! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. Those roadrunners are fun to watch!


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 21 months ago from Hereford, AZ

I have a family of roadrunners living on the property I own in AZ. They are fun and fascinating to watch. They may not fly well, but they do fly well enough to get up on the roof of my house. About 12 feet up, they fly right up and then they run around up there. It sounds really funny on a tin roof. I did not know they would attack and kill rattlesnakes, but happy to know that fact. I will happily let them continue to keep my yard snake free.

I would not want a rattlesnake to bite one of my dogs, who are sometimes too curious for their own good. My son's dog is snake trained though. She is trained to stand there and bark loudly at it, from a distance, until someone goes out to see what she is barking at. I usually show up with my 12-gauge when she barks for more than a minute. I do not want any rattlesnakes in the fenced yard.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

never realized that roadunner is so small, cartoon doesn't fit the bill


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 21 months ago from southern USA

Fascinating creatures! I have never seen one but would love to see them running. I did not know they do not fly, wow, how interesting. It is amazing to me how they have adapted to living in the desert with not much water and how they cool themselves.

Great hub!

Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

Blessings always


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you, KS! I'm sure there are some people that don't like birds, but I wouldn't want to know any of them! LOL Thank you for stopping by and your kind comment. Have a wonderful day!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thanks so much, Bill! I used to see them all the time when we lived in Texas and New Mexico. I was thrilled when we began to see them here in Oklahoma. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

All I can think of is "Beep Beep" from the cartoon. I've never seen one of these birds, but I know I'd be thrilled if I ever did. Thanks for the great information.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you so much, Cornelia! I'm very glad you found my hub interesting. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful day!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 21 months ago from the short journey

This amazing bird is full of surprises that I enjoyed reading about here. They look so frail but these creatures are actually strong, agile, and smart. The video is a good reminder of what nature is really like in spite of our warm, fuzzy feelings about the animal world. That they were designed to make a dove-like sound is very interesting considering how fearless and aggressive they are if need be!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 21 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Fascinating information on this incredible bird. We have a pair that seem to hang around our area and it's true that they like to run down the road. I have a picture of the male on my front porch and on the fence. He has a mate but I didn't know they pair for life. Very interesting and the photos are incredible.


kschimmel profile image

kschimmel 21 months ago from North Carolina, USA

Wonderful hub for bird lovers (are there people who don't love birds?) Road runners are beautiful and interesting.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

We rarely saw one here in Oklahoma, but the last 2 years we have been seeing several. I even had one hop up on a table on my porch and look in the window at me, that was so cool! Thank you for stopping by this morning and I hope you have a wonderful day!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Hello Bill! We rarely saw a roadrunner here in Oklahoma until the last couple of years. It seems that they are becoming more and more common here now. I love to watch them as they run down the road and zip across into the bushes. I would love to see one actually take on a snake, that would be something to watch, wouldn't it! Thank you for your very kind comment and I am so glad you enjoyed my hub! Have a wonderful day, my friend!


CorneliaMladenova profile image

CorneliaMladenova 21 months ago from Cork, Ireland

Really awesome and informative hub. Love all kinds of birds and found this article about the roadrunner so interesting. We have no such bird here to my regret. :)


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

I have seen many roadrunners when we lived in Texas and New Mexico, but I have never seen one catch a snake. I think that would be so cool to see! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub, Patricia and don't feel like you have been neglecting me, I haven't been here as much as I would like to be. Thank you for the angels, and support and I hope you have a wonderful day!!!


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 21 months ago from Central Florida

Sheila, I knew nothing about roadrunners before reading this. Fascinating! I had no idea they are carnivorous birds or that they don't fly. I've never seen one, but I'd love to see a roadrunner speeding down the road!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 21 months ago from Southern Oklahoma Author

Thank you so much, Bill! One morning last year, I had a roadrunner hop up on a table on my porch and look in the window at me. It was really pretty cool! Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed my hub!


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 21 months ago from Massachusetts

Hi Sheila. Fascinating. It's been a long time since I've seen a Roadrunner, not since my days living in California. I had no idea that they could take on a Rattlesnake and the video is amazing. Great job. Have a nice weekend.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 21 months ago from sunny Florida

Wow...I had no idea that the roadrunner was such a capable opponent for a snake. In the video showing the snake and roadrunner going toe to toe, I was amazed....I had wondered since you said they were mainly earth bound what the story would be with predators. And then you spoke of how they can turn directions. I had no idea they would challenge a perspective meal though.

Great hub, Sheila

Sorry to have neglected visiting you for so long

Angels are winging their way to you this morning Voted up++++ and shared ps

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