Greater Roadrunner

Geococcyx californianus
Range Map

The Greater Roadrunner is an iconic member of southwestern desert communities. Roadrunners are non migratory in a range that extends from California to southern Missouri and south into central Mexico.

Like most woodpeckers, parrots, toucans and other members of the cuckoo clan, these birds have a zygodactyl foot, with two toes facing forward and two backwards. Traditional Native American culture regards these birds with special importance. The tracks left by the feet of these birds make it difficult to tell which way the bird travelled. These tracks have been used as symbols in sacred drawings.

When I watch these birds on the hunt, I imagine a miniature T-Rex on the prowl. I once observed a roadrunner digging tenaciously for nearly an hour at the base of a dead cactus stump. I maneuvered into a favorable position and, at last, I photographed the bird as it extracted and dispatched a huge Desert Spiny Lizard. The scene was gruesome, yet unforgettable.

These birds can fly, but they spend most of their time on the ground. Running at speeds from 20 to 27 mph, these are fast birds, though despite what the Warner Brothers cartoons would have us believe, this half the speed of a real coyote (43 mph).

Taxonomists regard the Greater Roadrunner as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

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