The Greater Roadrunner, taxonomically classified as Geococcyx californianus, meaning "Californian Earth-cuckoo," is a long-legged bird in the cuckoo family, Cuculidae. Along with the Lesser Roadrunner, it is one of two species in the roadrunner genus Geococcyx. This roadrunner is also known as the chaparral cock, ground cuckoo, and snake killer.
The roadrunner is about 52–62 cm (20–24 in) long, has a 43–61 cm (17–24 in) wingspan and weighs 221–538 g (7.8–19.0 oz). It stands around 25–30 cm (9.8–12 in) tall and is the largest North American cuckoo. The adult has a bushy crest and long, thick, dark bill. It has a long, dark tail, a dark head and back, and is blue on the front of the neck and on the belly. Roadrunners have 4 toes on each zygodactyl foot; two face forward, and two face backward.
The name "roadrunner" comes from the bird's habit of racing down roads in front of moving vehicles and then darting to safety in the brush.
The breeding habitat is desert and shrubby country in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It can be seen regularly in the US states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, and less frequently in Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, as well as the Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Coahuila, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Querétaro, México, Puebla, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí.
The Greater Roadrunner nests on a platform of sticks low in a cactus or a bush and lays 3–6 eggs, which hatch in 20 days. The chicks fledge in another 18 days. Pairs may occasionally rear a second brood.
Greater Roadrunners measure 61 cm (2 feet) in length, about half of which is tail. They have long, wobbly legs and a slender, pointed bill. The upper body is mostly brown with black streaks and sometimes pink spots. The neck and upper breast are white or pale brown with dark brown streaks, and the belly is white. A crest of brown feathers sticks up on the head, and a bare patch of orange and blue skin lies behind each eye; the blue is replaced by white in adult males (except the blue adjacent to the eye), and the orange (to the rear) is often hidden by feathers.
This bird walks around rapidly, running down prey. It mainly feeds on insects, fruit and seeds with the addition of small reptiles, including snakes, small mammals, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, small birds, their eggs, and carrion, including roadkills. It kills larger prey with a blow from the beak—hitting the base of the neck of small mammals—or by holding it in the beak and beating it against a rock. Two roadrunners sometimes attack a relatively big snake cooperatively.
Although capable of weak flight, it spends most of its time on the ground, and can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). Cases where roadrunners have run as fast as 26 miles per hour (42 km/h) have been reported. This is the fastest running speed ever clocked for a flying bird, although it is not as fast as the flightless Ostrich.
Some Pueblo Indian tribes, such as the Hopi, believed that the roadrunner provided protection against evil spirits. In Mexico, some said it brought babies, as the White Stork was said to in Europe. Some Anglo frontier people believed roadrunners led lost people to trails. It is the state bird of New Mexico.
The Greater Roadrunner is the basis of the cartoon character Road Runner, in which the bird uses his speed and cunning to outmaneuver his antagonist, Wile E. Coyote, even though a roadrunner's actual speed is only 20-26 MPH and the Coyote's top speed is 43 MPH.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Geococcyx californianus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/106001328. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- "Geococcyx californianus (Lesson, 1829)". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=177836. Retrieved 9 February 2006.
- Hughes, Janice M. (1996). "Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)". In Poole, A. The Birds of North America Online. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. doi:10.2173/bna.244. http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/244/articles/other. Retrieved 28 May 2010. (Subscription required.)
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