Greater Roadrunner Fact File
The greater roadrunner is a long legged member of the cuckoo family. Their legs have two toes facing forward and two facing backwards. The toes are flexible. These legs are coloured dark blue as is the short beak.
Their elongated body is covered with dark-brown to black feathers. This is striped with white streaks. Their chest is also white. On the top of their head is a crest of black feathers. At the end of their body is a long tail which is coloured black and carried upwards while running.
Running back from the eye is a stripe of blue and red skin. The eye is bright yellow.
They measure 56cm (22in) long and weigh an average 325g (11.5oz). Their wingspan is 43-61cm (17-24in) across.
When hunting they will walk at a fast pace and then pounce on the prey. If a bird or insect flies overhead they can jump to catch it. Once they catch prey it is hit against a surface such as a rock and then swallowed whole.
They are capable of eating poisonous animals without becoming ill. They will also work together to kill venomous prey such as rattlesnakes. This involves one distracting the snake and the other pinning them from behind.
If food is too big to swallow they will walk around with it hanging out their mouth. It will gradually go down as they digest their food.
Their diet is moisture rich and this assists them with conserving water. They will excrete salt through a gland near the eye an adaptation which also prevents water loss in the kidneys.
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North America is the native home of the greater roadrunner. Here they are found across the Southern United States of America and much of Mexico.
The greater roadrunner is commonly found in deserts, shrubland and open country. At the edges of their habitat they inhabit grassland, forest edges and hills. They are most common in areas of open ground and dense low cover.
Most populations nest in spring. They will vary their breeding behavior by region. The main factor affecting breeding is the rainy season. In areas where there is a second rainy season and thus food is in abundance they may nest twice in a year.
Pairs of roadrunners are monogamous and remain together for most of the year defending their territory. To attract a mate they will present a twig or piece of grass and the pair will chase one another. The tail can also be used to display when the male runs away from the female with his tail raised. He will wag the tail and bow slightly.
Their nest is situated in dense bush, a tree or cactus slightly off the ground. To form the nest they make a platform from sticks which is shallow and saucer shaped. This is lined with grass, leaves and feathers. On occasion they add snakeskin or cow manure to this.
Both the male and female are involved with building the nest.
In to their nest they deposit between 2 and 8 eggs. These are coloured white or a pale yellow. The eggs are deposited over a 3 day period so that the hatching is staggered.
Incubation lasts for 20 days with both parents taking part in this. Typically males sit over night and the females do so during the day. At hatching the chicks weigh 14g (0.5oz).
After the chicks hatch they will be feed by the parents. They grow quickly and are able to leave the nest at just 21 days old. Once they leave the nest they will continue to be fed for 30-40 days.
On a rare occasion they may commit brood parasitism where the greater roadrunner will lay their eggs in the nest of a common raven or northern mockingbird and have them raise the chicks.
Sexual maturity is reached at 1 year old.
Roadrunners spend most of their time on the ground and prefer to run rather than walk. They are capable of flight though their large body means this is only possible for short periods.
In the morning greater roadrunners will warm up by sitting in the sun. They expose the black skin under their wing feathers to help them warm up quicker. If it is warm they will reduce their activity by up to 50%.
Their call is a series of slow and low ‘coos.’ Males can also make a whirring noise when looking to attract mates. They may also clack their beak together to make a clicking sound.
They run at speeds of up to 24km/h (15mph).
Predators and Threats
Their predators include coyote, skunks, hawks, raccoons and snakes. Their eggs are taken by coyotes. Most of their defensive mechanism is simply to run from predators.
The greater roadrunners X shaped foot is believed to confuse predators who cannot work out what direction they were travelling in when they passed through that area.
The greater roadrunner is the inspiration for the roadrunner seen in Loony Toons cartoons.
They are also known as the chapparal cock.
Images used under license
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