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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.

BNA ML combo package
Birds of North America Online

Calls

Male Greater Roadrunners make a distinct co-coo-coo-coo-coooooo call in a series of 3–8 downward slurring notes to attract or contact a mate and mark a territory. Beginning before sunrise, the cooing can be heard up to a quarter-mile away, and often elicits a response from a neighboring male. Both members of a pair also give a single-note coo as part of a display following copulation. Another variation sounds like a low-pitched growl and is given when a pair forages together, or by a parent communicating with chicks on the nest. Both male and female also make a short, sharp barking call that sounds like a yipping coyote. Females bark when at the nest site in response to a mate foraging nearby. As part of the courtship display, males make a low-pitched call consisting of mechanical-sounding putts and whirs as he faces the female.

Other Sounds

Both chicks and adults snap the mandibles together to make a sound like castanets. A sharp whine accompanies the clacking, with the female making a higher-pitched, more rapid sound. The clack may help roadrunners locate each other as well as serve as a warning to potential intruders. Males snap their wings in toward the body during a prancing display prior to copulation.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.