The roadrunners (genus Geococcyx), also known as chaparral birds or chaparral cocks are fast-running ground cuckoos.
There are two species: greater roadrunner (G. californianus), lesser roadrunner (G. velox).
Roadrunners inhabit the deserts of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America.
They live in arid lowland or mountainous shrubland, widely dispersed in dry open country with scattered brush. They are non-migratory, staying in their breeding area year-round.
The lifespan of roadrunners is about 7 to 8 years in the wild.
The roadrunner is about 56 centimeters (22 inches) long, with streaked olive-brown and white plumage, a short shaggy crest, bare blue and red skin behind the eyes, stout bluish legs, and a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.
True to its name, the roadrunner races along roads, streambeds, and well-worn paths, defending its large territory
Although capable of limited flight, it spends most of its time on the ground, and can run at speeds up to 32 km/h (20 mph). Cases where roadrunners have run as fast as 42 km/h (26 mph) have been reported.
During the cold desert night, the roadrunner lowers its body temperature slightly, going into a slight torpor to conserve energy. To warm itself during the day, the roadrunner exposes dark patches of skin on its back to the sun.
The roadrunner is an opportunistic omnivore. Its diet normally consists of insects (such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and beetles), small reptiles (such as lizards, collared lizards, and snakes, including rattlesnakes), rodents and other small mammals, spiders (including tarantulas), scorpions, centipedes, snails, small birds (and nestlings), eggs, and fruits and seeds like those from prickly pear cactuses and sumacs.
The roadrunner has a slow and descending dove-like “coo”. It also makes a rapid, vocalized clattering sound with its beak.
The roadrunner usually lives alone or in pairs. Breeding pairs are monogamous and mate for life, and pairs may hold a territory all year.
Both members of a pair patrol their territory—which can measure up to a 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter—and drive off intruders.
The roadrunner’s nest is often composed of sticks, and may sometimes contain leaves, feathers, snakeskins, or dung. It is commonly placed 1–3 meters above ground level in a low tree, bush, or cactus.
Roadrunner eggs are generally white. The greater roadrunner generally lays 2–6 eggs per clutch, but the lesser roadrunner’s clutches are typically smaller. Hatching is asynchronous.
Both sexes incubate the nest (with males incubating the nest at night) and feed the hatchlings. For the first one to two weeks after the young hatch, one parent remains at the nest. The young leave the nest at two to three weeks old, foraging with parents for a few days after.
Predators of roadrunner include coyotes, raccoons, domestic cats, hawks and skunks.
The Hopi and other Pueblo tribes believed that roadrunners were medicine birds and could protect against evil spirits. Their unusual X-shaped footprints are used as sacred symbols to ward off evil in many Pueblo tribes—partially because they invoke the protective power of the roadrunners themselves, and partially because the X shape of the tracks conceals which direction the bird is headed.
In Mexican Indian and American Indian tribes, such as the Pima, it is considered good luck to see a roadrunner.
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner are the two protagonists of a long-running (since 1949) Warner Bros. cartoon series.
The roadrunner appeared in a 1982 sheet of 20-cent United States stamps showing 50 state birds and flowers, being the state bird of New Mexico.