The Roadrunner Bird - Interesting Facts and 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.