Roadrunner

Geococcyx californianus, Geococcyx velox

Last updated: November 1, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Frank Fichtmüller

Roadrunners are one of the few animals that prey on rattlesnakes and tarantula hawk wasps.

Roadrunner Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Cuculiformes
Family
Cuculidae
Genus
Geococcyx
Scientific Name
Geococcyx californianus, Geococcyx velox

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Roadrunner Conservation Status

Roadrunner Locations

Roadrunner Locations

Roadrunner Facts

Prey
Insects, small reptiles, rodents, small birds, fruits, and seeds
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
Fun Fact
Roadrunners are one of the few animals that prey on rattlesnakes and tarantula hawk wasps.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Illegal shooting and habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Head crest
Distinctive Feature
Long legs and broad tails
Wingspan
17 to 24 inches
Incubation Period
19 to 20 days
Age Of Fledgling
2 to 3 weeks
Habitat
lowland and mountainous shrublands and woodlands
Predators
Coyotes, raccoons, skunks, domestic cats, and hawks
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Roadrunner
Special Features
Zygodactyl feet
Number Of Species
2
Location
North America, Central America
Average Clutch Size
-1
Nesting Location
Tree, shrub, or cactus

Roadrunner Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
25 mph
Lifespan
3.5 years
Weight
8 to 15 ounces
Length
22 to 24 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
Two to three years

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The roadrunner (Geococcyx) is a large ground bird in the cuckoo family, inhabiting desert habitats in North America. They spend much of their time swiftly running on the ground and waiting for prey like rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantula hawk wasps. And unlike their cartoon portrayals, these speedy birds can’t quite keep up with the coyote. Learn everything about the famous roadrunner, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Roadrunner Facts

  • Roadrunners have zygodactyl feet, which create an X-shaped marking on the ground. 
  • They hunt by running after prey or leaping mid-air to catch insects, smashing them against the ground.
  • A flock of roadrunners is called a “marathon.”
  • Their calls don’t sound like “meep meep,” more like “coo-coo.”
  • They can run up to 26 mph!

Where to Find the Roadrunner

Roadrunners live in North America in six countries, including Mexico, the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The greater roadrunner resides in Mexico and the Southwestern and South-Central United States, and the lesser roadrunner lives in Mexico and Central America. They inhabit arid lowland and mountainous shrublands and woodlands, staying in their environments year-round. Look for these birds on the ground, walking or running as they search for food, and listen for their dove-like coos.

Roadrunner Nest

Roadrunners build their nests with sticks, leaves, feathers, snakeskins, and dung. They place it in a tree, shrub, or cactus around three to ten feet above the ground.

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Scientific Name

The roadrunner (Geococcyx) belongs to the Cuculiformes order in the Cuculidae family, which encompasses the cuckoos. The Geococcyx genus comprises two roadrunner species: the greater (G. californianus) and the lesser (G. velox). Roadrunners are also known as chaparral birds.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

What Do Roadrunners Eat?
There are two species of roadrunner; the Lesser Roadrunner and the Greater Roadrunner

©iStock.com/peterjquinn

Roadrunners are large ground cuckoos, measuring 22 to 24 inches and weighing eight to 15 ounces, with a 17- to 24-inch wingspan. These birds feature slender bodies, long legs, broad tails, and large bills. They are black and brown with white streaks and feature a distinctive head crest. They also have bare skin patches behind each in shades of blue and red. These birds and other cuckoos have zygodactyl feet that aid their fast speeds. Their feet also make X-shaped markings on the ground, which appear to move in both directions.


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Roadrunners are relatively solitary and prefer to be alone or in pairs. However, if you see a rare flock of roadrunners, you can call them a “marathon.” These species make a slow, downward-slurring dove-like coo (not “meep meep”). And it can also cause rapid clattering sounds with its beak. They are relatively strong fliers but prefer to spend much of their time running on the ground. The roadrunner can reach speeds up to 26 mph!

Migration Pattern and Timing

Roadrunners are nonmigratory and stay in their environments year-round.

Diet

The roadrunner is an opportunistic omnivore who primarily eats insects and small reptiles. 

What Does the Roadrunner Eat?

Their diet consists of crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, lizards, snakes, rodents, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, snails, small birds, eggs, fruits, and seeds. It is one of the few animals that prey on rattlesnakes and tarantula hawk wasps. The roadrunner hunts on the ground, hiding under cover and running after prey. It can leap into the air to catch insects and then smashes them against the ground.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists both species of roadrunner as LC or “least concern.” Due to their extensive range and large, stable population, these species do not meet the “threatened” status thresholds. Their biggest threats include illegal shooting, habitat loss, and fragmentation from urbanization (development and traffic).

What Eats the Roadrunner?

Roadrunner predators include coyotes (of course), raccoons, skunks, domestic cats, hawks, and other birds of prey. Pairs will defend their territories from their kind and other threats. However, they often fly or run away from predators, as they generally get away quickly. But, unlike the cartoon, roadrunners are no match for the Wiley coyote, who can run over 40 Mph.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Roadrunner pairs are monogamous and mate for life, defending their territories together all year. During courtship, males perform displays and dangle food from their bills to entice the females. Once pairs form, their reproductive season lasts from spring to mid-summer. Females lay two to six white eggs, and both parents take turns incubating for 19 to 20 days. Their young fledge the nest two to three weeks after hatching but forage with their parents for a few more days after leaving. They become sexually mature around two to three years and have an average lifespan of 3.5 years. However, they can live up to seven or eight years.

Population

The global roadrunner population is unknown, but the lesser roadrunner alone has an estimated 500,000 to 5 million mature individuals. Data trends show both species have stable populations with no extreme fluctuations or fragmentations.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Roadrunner FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do roadrunners live?

Roadrunners live in North America in six countries, including Mexico, the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. They inhabit arid lowland and mountain shrublands and woodlands.

How big is a roadrunner?

Roadrunners are large ground cuckoos, measuring 22 to 24 inches and weighing eight to 15 ounces, with a 17- to 24-inch wingspan.

How fast is a roadrunner?

The roadrunner can reach speeds up to 26 mph!

What do you call a flock of roadrunners?

A flock of roadrunners is called a “marathon”.

What sound does a roadrunner make?

These species make a slow, downward-slurring dove-like coo (not “meep meep”).

Is a roadrunner faster than a coyote?

The coyote wins the race against the roadrunner, reaching speeds over 40 mph.

Do roadrunners migrate?

Roadrunners are nonmigratory and stay in their environments year-round.

What does a roadrunner eat?

They eat insects, small reptiles, bird eggs, fruits, and seeds. They are one of the few animals that eat rattlesnakes and tarantula hawk wasps.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22684458/93031234
  2. International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22684461/163883135
  3. Maxon, Martha Anne (2005) The Real Roadrunner. Vol. 9. University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
  4. National Wildlife Federation, Available here: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Birds/Greater-Roadrunner

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