- ORDER: Cuculiformes
- FAMILY: Cuculidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Correcaminos Grande (Spanish)
- Grand Géocoucou (French)
- Cool Facts
- For a generation of Americans, the familiar “beep, beep” of Warner Brothers’ cartoon Roadrunner was the background sound of Saturday mornings. Despite the cartoon character’s perennial victories over Wile E. Coyote, real-life coyotes present a real danger. The mammals can reach a top speed of 43 miles an hour—more than twice as fast as roadrunners.
- Roadrunners have evolved a range of adaptations to deal with the extremes of desert living. Like seabirds, they secrete a solution of highly concentrated salt through a gland just in front of each eye, which uses less water than excreting it via their kidneys and urinary tract. Moisture-rich prey including mammals and reptiles supply them otherwise-scarce water in their diet. Both chicks and adults flutter the unfeathered area beneath the chin (gular fluttering) to dissipate heat.
- Greater Roadrunners eat poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, with no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.
- Based on banding records, the oldest roadrunner was at least 7 years old.
- Roadrunners hold a special place in Native American and Mexican legends and belief systems. The birds were revered for their courage, strength, speed, and endurance. The roadrunner’s distinctive X-shaped footprint—with two toes pointing forward and two backward—are used as sacred symbols by Pueblo tribes to ward off evil. The X shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.