Greater Roadrunner

Geococcyx californianus
Range Map

The Greater Roadrunner is an iconic member of southwestern desert communities. They 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 them on the hunt, I imagine a miniature T-Rex on the prowl. I’ve met roadrunners in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Once, while visiting Tucson’s Sabino Canyon, I 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.

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

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

27 Photos

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