Roadrunner Legends and Oddities
Roadrunner (The Old Road Warrior)
Most Americans need no introduction to the roadrunner. It occurs throughout the Southwest, from Kansas to California, and
southward to central Mexico. It resides year-round in most sections of Texas, but less commonly in the eastern portions of
This slender, long-legged ground cuckoo can be seen dashing across the desert or plains and may even be encountered in
the East Texas piney woods. Capable of sprinting up to 15 miles an hour, it flies only under duress. When alarmed or curious,
it slowly raises its shaggy crest and long, white-edged tail, uttering a strangely dove like series of coo's, or clattering
The roadrunner eats almost anything that moves--insects, spiders, scorpions, lizards, rodents and small birds. It is also
famous as a snake killer. Legend has the roadrunner building a fence of cactus pieces around a snake so that it cannot escape,
and while that technique is fictional, the bird's quick agility lets it capture even highly venomous prey. Darting in to stab
a snake's head, it then grabs the squirming reptile in its powerful beak and thrashes it on the ground. About 90 percent of
its food is animal matter, while fruit and seeds make up the other 10 percent.
The great roadrunner is so named to distinguish it from a similar species, the lesser roadrunner, that occurs in portions
of Mexico and Central America. Other regional names include "paisano" and "chaparral cock."
More On The Greater RoadrunnerThe roadrunner lives in dry, scrubby deserts of the southwest USA,
where the days are hot but the nights are very cold. To conserve body heat at night, the bird slows down its bodily functions,
lowers it temperature and becomes lethargic. But when dawn breaks it must warm up quickly and get on the move again. To do
this, it has a built-in heat exchanger, a patch of dark skin on the back between its wings that helps to absorb the warmth
of the weak morning sun. The bird roughs up its feathers to expose the patch, and then waits for its body to reach normal
World's Largest Roadrunner
Paisano Pete is the 11-foot tall and 20-foot long roadrunner
who graces the corner of Main Street and Hwy 290 in Fort Stockton, Texas.
The Legendary Roadrunner
The legendary Roadrunner is famous for its distinctive appearance,
its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in Warner Bros.
The Roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It
has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill.
It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches
from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo Family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with
2 forward toes and 2 behind.
When the Roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short,
rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers
walking or running (up to 17 miles per hour) usually with a clownish gait.
The Roadrunner makes a series of 6 to 8, low, dove like coos dropping in pitch, as well as a clattering sound
by rolling mandibles together.
Physical DescriptionThe head, neck, back, and wings of greater roadrunners are dark brown-black
and heavily streaked with white, while the breast is mostly white. The eyes are bright yellow and there is a postocular streak
of bare blue and red skin. A particularly notable feature is the crest of black feathers, which is raised or lowered at will.
Overall, the body has a streamlined appearance, with a long tail that may be carried at an upward angle. The legs and beak
are blue. The feet are zygodactylous, with two toes pointed forward and two toes pointed backward. The sexes are similar in
appearance. Immature greater roadrunners lack the colorful postocular streaks and are more bronze in color.
Greater roadrunners are medium-sized birds, weighing 227 to 341 g. An adult's length is between 50 and 62 cm and the height
is between 25 and 30 cm. Greater roadrunners have a wingspan of 43 to 61 cm.
The Roadrunner has a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.
The Roadrunner has long stout legs.
The Roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological
and behavioral adaptations
Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food
It reabsorbs water
from its feces before excretion
A nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds
It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday
Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or
dragonfly from midair
The Roadrunner inhabits open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry
brush, chaparral or other desert scrub.
Food & Hunting
Roadrunner feeds almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and other birds.
Up to 10 % of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of the year.
Because of its lightening quickness, the Roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes.
Using its wings like a matador's cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly
slams its head against the ground till dead.
It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow
the entire length at one time. This does not stop the Roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about
with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.
BreedingCourtship behavior involves the male's foot pursuit of the female, with frequent rests.
Food is an important component of the mating ritual. The male will tempt the female with a morsel such as a lizard or snake
dangling from its beak. If the female accepts the offered food, the pair will probably mate. In another display, the male
wags his tail in front of the female while bowing and making a whirring or cooing sound; he then jumps into the air and onto
his mate. Greater roadrunner pairs may mate for life. Both parents collect the small sticks used for building
a shallow, saucer-like nest, but the female actually constructs it in a bush, cactus or small tree. She then lays from 2 to
12 white eggs over a period of 3 days, which results in staggered hatching. . Incubation is from 18-20 days and is done by
either parent, though preferably the male, because the nocturnally incubating males maintain normal body temperature. The
first to hatch often crowd out the late-arriving runts, which are sometimes eaten by the parents. Usually only 3 or 4 young
are finally fledged from the nest after about 18 days. These remain near the adults for up to 2 more weeks before dispersing
to the surrounding desert. In the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of California where there is only one rainy season,
Roadrunners nest in Spring, the only time there is abundant prey to raise a brood. In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, they
breed again in August or September after summer rains increase their food sources.
PredationHawks, house cats, skunks, coyotes and raccoons prey upon roadrunners. Coyotes also eat
their eggs. The Roadrunner relies largely on its swiftness to outrun predators. It also uses patches of brush for hiding and
it places its nest above ground to deter predation on the eggs.
Economic ImportanceThere are no known adverse affects of Geococcyx californianus on humans. Greater
roadrunners help eliminate pests such as mice and various insects. Humans are frequently captivated by the odd behavior of
More Roadrunner Facts
The greater roadrunner is a ground dwelling bird and is a member of the cuckoo family. It is the only roadrunner species
that inhabits the United States.
The roadrunner has brown feathers streaked with white, a bushy crest, a long bill and a very long tail. Its wings are short
Roadrunners have two toes that point forward and two that point back.
The roadrunner makes its nest out of sticks and lines it with grasses and leaves. The nest is hidden in a cactus, shrubby
bush or low tree.
The female roadrunner lays 3 to 6 white eggs, which hatch into chicks in 20 days
Roadrunner Vital Statistics
Weight: 8-24 oz.
Length: 20-24 inches"
Sexual Maturity : 2-3 yrs.
Mating Season: Spring
Incubation: 18-20 days
No. of Eggs: 2-12
Birth Interval: 1 year
Life span: 7 to 8 years
Typical diet: insects, lizards, snakes,
Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat rattlesnakes.
Roadrunners prefer walking or running and attain speeds up to 17 miles per hour.
The Roadrunner is also called the Chaparral Cock.
The Roadrunner reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
The Roadrunner's nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.
The Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico
The roadrunner wasn't always known as a road runner. Of course, the bird was around
before there were roads to run along and it is more frequently seen in arroyos and surrounding desert. The bird was allegedly
given the moniker "roadrunner" because it would run alongside horse drawn carriages traveling down dirt roads. Most recently
before being named roadrunners, they were known as Chaparral Cocks or Chaparral Birds. The roadrunner is also known as "El
Correcaminos" (roadrunner) and "El Paisano" (countryman) in Spanish, the latter being a warm acceptance of the bird into the
heart of Mexican culture. Obviously, before these names there were Native American names and legends for the roadrunner, which
is explored further in below paragraphs.
According to Shamanism, the roadrunner's wisdom lies in the bird's agility, proper use of speed and understanding of rapid
change. To those with the roadrunner in their totem, the bird is thought to give speed of thought and the ability to grasp
new opportunities. It is no wonder then why the roadrunner is known as "The Leader of the Birds" in an Apache legend.
Dlö' Binant'a' is the Apache tale of a time when animals were like people. The birds did not have a leader like the other
animals, so they gathered to select one. The birds felt that they needed a good leader to speak for them at their gatherings.
First they thought the oriole might make a good leader, as he had beautiful feathers. After some deliberation they decided
against the oriole because, while he had attractive feathers, he didn't talk much and would probably not speak well for the
birds. Then the birds thought the mocking bird would be a good choice. They immediately discounted him because he talked excessively
and had nothing good to say, only repeating those around him. The mocking bird would certainly not speak well for the birds.
Next the birds picked the blue jay, but again decided against him. The blue jay, they reasoned, was also too verbose, as well
as stubborn and vain. Finally, after all this deliberation, the birds suggested the roadrunner. Certainly, they surmised,
he would be a good leader. He is fast and would definitely speak well for the birds. This was how the birds chose their leader
and today the roadrunner is still the Leader of the Birds.
A legend of the Yokuts, tells how the roadrunner got the red spots beside its eyes. This too, is a story of a time when
the Bird and Animal People shared the world with the first man. Ki-yu the Coyote and Limik the Prairie Falcon were cold because
it was winter had they had no fire, but Oi-Oi the Roadrunner kept himself warm by chasing a lizard. Ki-yu couldn't even eat
his dinner because his teeth were chattering so hard. Finally, in frustration, Ki-yu tossed his dinner into the river and
told Oi-Oi and Limik that he would steal fire from Wi-ness the First Man.
Oi-Oi and Limik wanted to know Ki-yu's plan, but the coyote had no plan. So the three settled down to sleep the coyote
by himself and the two birds huddled close to stay warm. The cold and the thought of fire kept Limik awake, thinking of a
plan to steal fire from Wi-ness. Limik woke the roadrunner, to tell him of a plan he'd thought up. Just then Ki-yu, who had
been feigning sleep jumped to his feet and announced that he had a plan. The birds looked at Ki-yu and asked him his plan.
The coyote stalled and said that he didn't yet know all the details of his plan, and that he would first listen to Limik's
The prairie falcon started to unfold his plan. He told the coyote to go upstream and fetch a stick. Before Limik the Prairie
Falcon could finish, Ki-yu the Coyote ran upstream fetched a stick and brought it back. Limik told the coyote that it needed
to be a long willow branch, and the stick Ki-yu brought back was not a willow branch. Ki-yu raced off again, returning with
a short willow branch. Again, the prairie falcon told Ki-yu that this branch would not do, it must be longer. Finally, the
coyote got it right and brought back a long willow branch. Now Limik described how Ki-yu and Oi-Oi would go steal fire from
Wi-ness, by placing the branch in the fire.
So the coyote and the roadrunner set out together to steal fire from Wi-ness. When they came upon the first man, they found
him towering over the fire. So Ki-yu ran up and thrust the branch into the fire then Wi-ness started after him. Forgetting
about fire the coyote turned tail to escape Wi-ness. At that moment while Wi-ness was distracted Oi-Oi the Roadrunner dashed
toward the fire and pulled the burning branch. Wi-ness realized what had happened and also knew he could never catch the speedy
bird, so he commanded the rain to pour down on the roadrunner and quench the fire. Oi-Oi had a long way to go and the rain
began to come down harder. Oi-Oi needed a plan to protect the fire. His mind raced as quickly as his feet to devise a plan
to keep the fire dry. Oi-Oi thought of a plan, he would tuck the fire under his feathers! The clever roadrunner tucked little
bits of flame under the feathers behind his eyes and ran home giving fire to the Bird and Animal People. This is how the roadrunner
got the red spots beside his eyes, which all roadrunners still have today.
In fact, there are also more modern tales, tales of the old west. Tales of a bird with lightning speed that would seek
out rattlesnakes to fight began to circulate among cowboys and settlers. They even claimed that the bird would build a fence
of cholla cactus joints around a sleeping rattlesnake. We cannot know if this was just a tall tale but what do know to be
true, is that a roadrunner can maneuver around snatch a rattlesnake by the tail and repeatedly whip it against the ground
until it is dead. Oddly enough the roadrunner cannot ingest the entire snake at once, so it will go about its daily routine
with a snake dangling from its mouth, swallowing it a couple inches at a time. The roadrunner is so quick that it is reputed
to be able to leap straight up and pluck a hummingbird from the air in mid-flight. I don't know if this has been substantiated,
but it adds to the mystery and legend surrounding this amazing bird. It is also reputed that roadrunners are not only unafraid
of humans but curious and may approach a person.
The Roadrunner was feeling very amorous one day, and since there were no other female roadrunners around, he decided to
He happened to spot a lovely dove. Bzzzzzz... down he goes and feathers are flying, lots of dust in the air and the dazed
dove is lying there with a smile and says, "I'm a dove and I've been loved!"
The Roadrunner is still not satisfied. He spots a Lark flying around and zooms down on her. Again, feathers are flying
around and dust is in the air and the dazed Lark is lying there and said, "I'm a Lark and I've been sparked"
The Roadrunner is still not satisfied and spots a Duck. He zooms down and again feathers are flying and a lot of squawkings
and dust flying in the air, and the roadrunner takes off.
The Duck is lying there really pissed off, and says "I'm a Drake and there's been a mistake!"