Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is primarily a ground-dwelling member of the cuckoo family that inhabits the southern extremes of the Great Plains region. The range of the roadrunner extends across the southwestern United States and into central Mexico. The northern perimeter extends through the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma into southern Kansas and west into southeastern Colorado. Habitat preference varies widely within this region but includes both desert conditions in the south to grasslands in the north.

The adult roadrunner has a total body length of about twenty-four inches and is designed for speed. With its zygodactyl feet, characterized by two toes forward and two toes back, the roadrunner is an e.cient predator on many species of insects and most small reptiles, including the rattlesnake. Both male and female have buff-colored undersides with a mixture of black, bronze, and buff feathers on the breast. Both sexes possess a crest on top of the head.

Nesting habits of the roadrunner are consistent throughout the Plains. Courtship begins in the early spring with nests being constructed in shrubs and small trees at heights of from three to about fifteen feet. Nests are shallow and from eighteen to twenty inches in diameter. The first clutch of eggs (from a total of two or three) is laid in late April to early May. The incubation period lasts about eighteen days, with both parents sharing all nesting chores. Juveniles leave the nest at about fourteen days of age and remain secluded in underbrush for an additional eight to ten days. Parenting chores by adults continue during this period. Upon emergence after the tenday seclusion period the juveniles are prepared to fend for themselves.

Wyman Meinzer Benjamin, Texas

Bent, Arthur Cleveland. Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, Goatsuckers, Hummingbirds, and Their Allies. New York: Dover Publications, 1948.

Meinzer, Wyman. The Roadrunner. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993.

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