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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Greater Roadrunner

Geococcyx californianus ORDER: CUCULIFORMES FAMILY: CUCULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A bird born to run, the Greater Roadrunner can outrace a human, kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest. Roadrunners reach two feet from sturdy bill to white tail tip, with a bushy blue-black crest and mottled plumage that blends well with dusty shrubs. As they run, they hold their lean frames nearly parallel to the ground and rudder with their long tails. They have recently extended their range eastward into Missouri and Louisiana.

Jane Kim Mural
YardMap Be on the Map

Keys to identification Help

Crows and Jays-like
Crows and Jays-like
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Greater Roadrunners are large cuckoos with a distinctive shape: long legs, a very long, straight tail, and a long neck. The head has a short crest and the bill is long, heavy, and slightly downcurved.

  • Color Pattern

    They are tan or brown with extensive blackish streaking on the upperparts and chest. The crown is black with small, pale spots, and they have a patch of bare, blue skin behind the eye. The wings are dark with white highlights.

  • Behavior

    Greater Roadrunners spend most of their lives on the ground hunting lizards, small mammals, and birds. They are very fast runners, leaning over parallel to the ground with their tails streaming behind them. They are weak fliers, but you may see them perched above the ground on fence posts and sometimes telephone wires.

  • Habitat

    Greater Roadrunners are characteristic birds of the hot, shrubby expanses of the Desert Southwest. They aren’t restricted to deserts, though: look for them in open country with patches of shrubs or small trees almost as far east as the Mississippi River.

Range Map Help

Greater Roadrunner Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

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    Greater Roadrunner

     
    • Distinctive terrestrial cuckoo
    • Elongated shape with lanky body and long tail
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Short, shaggy crest
    • © Cameron Rognan, St. George, Utah, December 2004
  •  

    Greater Roadrunner

     
    • Usually seen running on ground in arid habitats
    • Long tail often held up above body
    • Dark and streaky above, paler below
    • Pale stripe behind eye more obvious in breeding season
    • © Keith Alderman, Brownsville, Texas, February 2012
  •  

    Greater Roadrunner

     
    • Usually found on ground or sitting on low, prominent perch
    • Large and slender-bodied
    • Very long tail often cocked above back
    • Short, shaggy crest
    • © Cameron Rognan, Washington, Utah, November 2009
  •  

    Greater Roadrunner

     
    • Often seen running on open ground
    • Streaky dark brown above, paler below
    • Very long, dark tail
    • © Bill Thompson, Big Bend NP, Texas, April 2012

Similar Species

Greater Roadrunners are very distinctive birds—particularly given their long-legged, long-tailed shape, crested head, and heavy bill. Female Ring-necked Pheasants are only vaguely similar; they have much smaller heads, shorter legs, and a tapered tail. They show less dark streaking and tend to occur in less dry habitats. Scaled Quail share the Greater Roadrunner’s desert habitat, but are much smaller and shorter-legged, with a plain back and wings and heavily scaled underparts.

Find This Bird

The best way to find Greater Roadrunners is to travel along quiet roads in open country, particularly arid grasslands and low deserts. Seeing one is usually a surprise, as the bird darts out of shrub cover or across a road—so keep your eyes peeled. Roadsides often teem with roadrunner prey lizards and snakes basking in the open or mice and birds drawn to seed-bearing plants. On the edges of its range, the Greater Roadrunner can be quite scarce and very hard to find. Listen for their dovelike, low-pitched, cooing, which they usually give from an elevated perch.