Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Roadrunner

Most of us who travel the deserts have seen the Roadrunner. And if you never have been in the desert you sure have seen Walt Disney’s Roadrunner figure zapping along the ground, accompanied by the typical sound of a car horn.
The enormous speed these birds show when running is legendary. And it is a great deal of fun watching them.

Under running the body stretches out close to a flat line. The neck and beak is lowered forward and the long tail of this bird pokes straight backward, emphasizing the impression of speed.

But as soon as the roadrunner stops, neck and beak are raised up and so is the tail. They are very shy and consequently hard to take a picture of.
I found a good description of the bird at Desert USA.

Geography – Range
Throughout the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan and southern Great Basin deserts They in all the Southwestern states.

Curious Facts
Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat rattlesnakes.
Roadrunners prefer walking or running and attain speeds up to 17 mph. hour
The Roadrunner is also called the Chaparral Cock.
The Roadrunner reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
The Roadrunner’s nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.
The Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.
Vital Stats
Weight: 8-24 oz.
Length: 20-24 inches"
Height: 10-12"

Sexual Maturity: 2-3 yrs..
Mating Season: Spring
Incubation: 18-20 days
No. of Eggs: 2-12
Birth Interval: 1 year

Lifespan: 7 to 8 years
Typical diet: insects, lizards, snakes,

Related Species
Roadrunners are ground cuckoos, are any of about 15 species of birds constituting the subfamily Neomorphinae of the Cuckoo Family (Cuculidae), noted for terrestrial habits. There are 11 New World species, 3 of which lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.
Other ground cuckoos include the Morococcyx erythropygus, a species widespread in Central America and 5 species of Neomorphus, found from Costa Rica to Bolivia.Three species of the very large Carpococcyx, are found in Southeast Asia and acquire a length of 24 inches.
The two species of Roadrunners include the Lesser Roadrunner (G. velox) a slightly smaller, buffier and less streaky bird, of Mexico and Central America, which grows to a length of 18 inches.

  Roadrunner Baby

The legendary Roadrunner is famous for its distinctive appearance, its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in
Warner Bros. cartoons.
The Roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill.
It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo Family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind.
When the Roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short, rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers walking or running (up to 17 miles per hour) usually with a clownish gait.

The Roadrunner makes a series of 6 to 8, low, dovelike coos dropping in pitch, as well as a clattering sound by rolling mandibles together.
The Roadrunner has a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.
The Roadrunner has long stout legs.
The Roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations
Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food
It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion
A nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds
It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday
Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair.
The Roadrunner inhabits open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry brush, chaparral or other desert scrub.

Food & Hunting
The Roadrunner feeds almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and other birds. Up to 10 % of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of the year.
Because of its lightening quickness, the Roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes. Using its wings like a matador's cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground till dead.
It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the Roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.
When spring arrives, the male Roadrunner, in addition to acquiring food for himself, offers choice morsels to a female as an inducement to mating. He usually dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.
Both parents collect the small sticks used for building a shallow, saucer-like nest, but the female actually constructs it in a bush, cactus or small tree. She then lays from 2 to 12 white eggs over a period of 3 days, which results in staggered hatching. . Incubation is from 18-20 days and is done by either parent, though preferably the male, because the nocturnally incubating males maintain normal body temperature.
The first to hatch often crowd out the late-arriving runts, which are sometimes eaten by the parents. Usually only 3 or 4 young are finally fledged from the nest after about 18 days. These remain near the adults for up to 2 more weeks before dispersing to the surrounding desert.
In the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of California where there is only one rainy season, Roadrunners nest in Spring, the only time there is abundant prey to raise a brood. In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, they breed again in August or September after summer rains increase their food sources.



  1. And here I thought you were posting about our least favourite store in Quartzsite. Doug is also fascinated with roadrunners. Has many many pictures especially around Casa Grande.

  2. I loved watching the roadrunners when we were at the Sands. Fun bird. That's a great lot of information...beep-beep!!

  3. You're right. We do see the little roadrunners hanging around several places we visit. I love watching them and have a whole collection of pictures ... some good and some not so good.

  4. The roadrunners were constant entertainment when we were gate guarding in South Texas. The mockingbirds hated them and would swoop and attack the roadrunners. Probably thought the roadrunners would eat their young!

  5. Great information on the roadrunners, we love watching them when in that area.

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