Geococcyx Californianus: The Roadrunner

Many of us who watched cartoons from the 50’s to the 80’s, remember Wile E. Coyote always being outsmarted by the Road Runner! That bird was just so fast, and ran circles around that wild dog! The Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, is known to run 17-24 miles an hour on land, and is the fastest running bird that can fly (but only for a short period of time, sometimes just seconds).
Preferring to sprint rather then fly, this species was nicknamed the Ground Cuckoo because it made a habit of running along paths in front of horse drawn carriages! Being a member of the Cuckoo family, known for their curiosity, they won’t hesitate approaching humans. The male roadrunner’s low dove-like coos in a descending pitch are quite attractive to the female roadrunners, along with a preet-preet call. Adding to its odd behavior, the male also performs a unique courtship, wagging its tail while bowing and tempting the female with a morsel of lizard or snake dangling from his beak.
Even though this bird prefers arid deserts and chaparrals in the Southwestern United States, we see the roadrunner in the San Bernardino Mountains at Wildhaven Ranch. To find cover while hunting, they can also be found in grasslands, brush habitat and at the edges of woodlands in Southern California.
The head, neck, back and wings are dark brown-black, heavily streaked with white, while the breast is mostly white. Its eyes are bright yellow with a barely seen streak of bare blue and red skin surrounding the eye. His crest of black feathers can be raised or lowered for necessary displays to allure intruders away from nests, or simply to make a statement! The greater roadrunner is about 20-24 inches in length with a 32 inch wingspan, and it can alternate with several shallow rapid wing beats with long glides if flushed from a bush or crossing obstacles.
While the male collects the nest materials of sticks, grass, feathers, snakeskin or dung; the female builds most of the construction in low trees, in a bush or a cactus about 2 1/2 feet off the ground. Their diet varies from insects, spiders, lizards, snakes, small birds to small mice. Scanning for prey as they walk rapidly, they ascend on their target with great gusto, and may jump in the air to catch an insect! After capturing a small rodent, they will deftly smash the head against a rock and swallow it whole, many times its prey left hanging out of its mouth while being digested! Their lifespan is 7 to 8 years, a long time considering that their predators are species of hawks, skunks, raccoons, cats, and yes, coyotes!
Quite the character, the greater roadrunner is important to the ecosystem by eliminating pests like mice and poisonous insects. Both predator and prey, this valuable bird helps balance our natural environment while captivating humans by their comical antics in the wild! Recalling again the absurdly complex contraptions and elaborate plans to pursue his quarry, Wile E. Coyote never did get his Road Runner, while the latter would “beep-beep” out of grasp.
Hopefully, we can continue to conserve the habitat for this funny, unusual and special cuckoo bird!
Wildhaven Ranch is a wildlife sanctuary in the San Bernardino Mountains specializing in educating the public about one of our natural resources, wildlife, in our ecosystem. Visit it at or call for tours at (909) 337-7389.

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