Roadrunner

Last updated

Roadrunner
Roadrunner DeathValley.jpg
Greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Subfamily: Neomorphinae
Genus:Geococcyx
Wagler, 1831
Species

G. californianus
G. velox

The roadrunners (genus Geococcyx), also known as chaparral birds or chaparral cocks, are two species of fast-running ground cuckoos with long tails and crests. They are found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, [1] [2] usually in the desert. Some have been clocked at 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) while a few have also been clocked up to 27 miles per hour.

Cuckoo family of birds

The cuckoos are a family of birds, Cuculidae, the sole taxon in the order Cuculiformes. The cuckoo family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis are sometimes separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively. The cuckoo order Cuculiformes is one of three that make up the Otidimorphae, the other two being the turacos and the bustards.

Southwestern United States Geographical region of the USA

The Southwestern United States, also known as the American Southwest, is the informal name for a region of the western United States. Definitions of the region's boundaries vary a great deal and have never been standardized, though many boundaries have been proposed. For example, one definition includes the stretch from the Mojave Desert in California to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and from the Mexico–United States border to the southern areas of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. The largest metropolitan areas are centered around Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque, and El Paso. Those five metropolitan areas have an estimated total population of more than 9.6 million as of 2017, with nearly 60 percent of them living in the two Arizona cities—Phoenix and Tucson.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

Contents

Species

The subfamily Neomorphinae, the New World ground cuckoos, includes 11 species of birds, [3] while the genus Geococcyx has just two, [4]

Neomorphinae subfamily of the cuckoo family

The Neomorphinae are a subfamily of the cuckoo family, Cuculidae. Members of this subfamily are known as New World ground cuckoos, since most are largely terrestrial and native to the Americas. Only Dromococcyx and Tapera are more arboreal, and these are also the only brood parasitic cuckoos in the Americas, while the remaining all build their own nests.

ImageScientific nameCommon NameDistribution
The Greater Roadrunner Walking.jpg G. californianus greater roadrunner Mexico and the southwestern United States [5]
Lesser Roadrunner - Mexico S4E1497.jpg G. velox lesser roadrunner Mexico and Central America [6]

Morphology

The roadrunner generally ranges in size from 22 to 24 in (56 to 61 cm) from tail to beak. The average weight is about 8–15 oz (230–430 g). [7] The roadrunner is a large, slender, black-brown and white-streaked ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has long legs, strong feet, and an oversized dark bill. The tail is broad with white tips on the three outer tail feathers. The bird has a bare patch of skin behind each eye; this patch is shaded blue anterior to red posterior. The lesser roadrunner is slightly smaller, not as streaky, and has a smaller bill. Both the lesser roadrunner and the greater roadrunner leave behind very distinct "X" track marks appearing as if they are travelling in both directions.

The beak, bill, and/or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds that is used for eating and for preening, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young. The terms beak and rostrum are also used to refer to a similar mouth part in some ornithischians, pterosaurs, turtles, cetaceans, dicynodonts, anuran tadpoles, monotremes, sirens, pufferfish, billfishes and cephalopods.

Crest (feathers) prominent feature exhibited by several bird and dinosaur species on their heads

The crest is a prominent feature exhibited by several bird and other dinosaur species on their heads.

Roadrunners and other members of the cuckoo family have zygodactyl feet. The roadrunner can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) [8] and generally prefer sprinting to flying, though it will fly to escape predators.[ citation needed ] During flight, the short, rounded wings reveal a white crescent in the primary feathers.

Roadrunner beak clatter

Vocalization

The roadrunner has a slow and descending dove-like "coo". It also makes a rapid, vocalized clattering sound with its beak. [9]

Geographic range

Greater roadrunner with a lizard Roadrunnerusarmy31.jpg
Greater roadrunner with a lizard

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. [10] The greater roadrunner is not currently considered threatened in the US, but is habitat-limited. [11]

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

Food and foraging habits

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), [12] 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 lesser roadrunner eats mainly insects. The roadrunner forages on the ground and, when hunting, usually runs after prey from under cover. It may leap to catch insects, and commonly batters certain prey against the ground. Because of its quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes; [13] it is also the only real predator of tarantula hawk wasps. [10]

Behavior and breeding

The roadrunner usually lives alone or in pairs. Breeding pairs are monogamous and mate for life, [14] and pairs may hold a territory all year. During the courtship display, the male bows, alternately lifting and dropping his wings and spreading his tail. He parades in front of the female with his head high and his tail and wings drooped, and may bring an offering of food. The reproductive season is spring to mid-summer (depending on geographic location and species). [10]

The roadrunner's nest is often composed of sticks, and may sometimes contain leaves, feathers, snakeskins, or dung. [15] It is commonly placed 1–3 meters above ground level [16] 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. [10]

Greater roadrunners often become habituated to the presence of people. Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) 2.jpg
Greater roadrunners often become habituated to the presence of people.

Thermoregulation

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. [10]

Greater roadrunner warming itself in the sun, exposing the dark skin and feathers on its back.

Native American lore

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 (thus throwing malignant spirits off track.) Stylized roadrunner tracks have been found in the rock art of ancestral Southwestern tribes like the Anasazi and Mogollon cultures, as well. Roadrunner feathers were traditionally used to decorate Pueblo cradleboards as spiritual protection for the baby. In Mexican Indian and American Indian tribes, such as the Pima, it is considered good luck to see a roadrunner. In some Mexican tribes, the bird was considered sacred and never killed, but most Mexican Indians used the meat of the roadrunner as a folk remedy to cure illness or to boost stamina and strength. [17]

The word for roadrunner in O'odham language is Taḏai and is also the name of a transit center in Tucson, Arizona [18] [19]

Three views of the same specimen Greater Roadrunner Collage.jpg
Three views of the same specimen

Notes

  1. "roadrunner". The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  2. "roadrunner". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  3. Myers, P. R.; Parr, C. S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G. S.; Dewey, T. A. "Neomorphinae (New World ground cuckoos)". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
  4. Avian Web. "Roadrunners" . Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  5. "Greater Roadrunners". Avian Web. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  6. "Lesser Roadrunners". Avian Web. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  7. "Roadrunner". Desert Animals. The Animal Spot. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  8. Lockwood, Mark. Basic Texas birds: a field guide. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 168–169. ISBN   978-0-292-71349-9.
  9. "Bird Sounds".
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Roadrunners". Avian Web. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  11. Famolaro, Pete. "Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)". California Partners in Flight Coastal Scrub and Chaparral Bird Conservation Plan. Point Blue. Archived from the original on 5 November 2004. Retrieved 21 Aug 2015. No federal or state [management] status. No other special status. Unitt (1984) indicates that roadrunners are habitat limited and have experienced a reduction in numbers due to urbanization.
  12. "roadrunner vs rattlesnake".
  13. "The Roadrunner". Desert USA. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  14. "With the exception of breeding pairs, roadrunners are solitary (Hughes 1996). Pairs mate for life (Terres 1980)."
  15. "Information on the Roadrunner | The Nature Conservancy". Nature.org. 2016-07-15. Retrieved 2016-09-14.
  16. "Usually 1-3 meters above ground; infrequently higher than 3 meters (Hughes 1996)."
  17. "Native American Indian Roadrunner Legends, Meaning and Symbolism from the Myths of Many Tribes". www.native-languages.org. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  18. "TOHONO 'O'ODHAM-ENGLISH DICTIONARY" (PDF). University at Buffalo.
  19. "Tohono Tadai Transit Center - Transit.Wiki". www.transit.wiki. Retrieved 2017-06-26.

Related Research Articles

Bald eagle A bird of prey from North America

The bald eagle is a bird of prey found in North America. A sea eagle, it has two known subspecies and forms a species pair with the white-tailed eagle. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

White-tailed eagle species of bird

The white-tailed eagle is a very large eagle widely distributed across Eurasia. As are all eagles, it is a member of the family Accipitridae which includes other diurnal raptors such as hawks, kites, and harriers. One of up to eleven members in the genus Haliaeetus, which are commonly called sea eagles, it is not infrequently also referred to as the white-tailed sea-eagle. It is also sometimes known as the ern or erne, gray sea eagle and Eurasian sea eagle

Rough-legged buzzard species of bird

The rough-legged buzzard, also called the rough-legged hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey. It is found in Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America and Eurasia during the breeding season and migrates south for the winter. It was traditionally also known as the rough-legged falcon in such works as John James Audubon's The Birds of America.

Great spotted cuckoo species of bird

The great spotted cuckoo is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes, which also includes the roadrunners, the anis and the coucals. The genus name clamator is Latin for "shouter" from clamare, "to shout". The specific glandarius is derived from Latin glans, glandis, "acorn".

Red-tailed hawk Species of bird

The red-tailed hawk is a bird of prey that breeds throughout most of North America, from the interior of Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies. It is one of the most common members within the genus of Buteo in North America or worldwide. The red-tailed hawk is one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk", though it rarely preys on standard-sized chickens. The bird is sometimes also referred to as the red-tail for short, when the meaning is clear in context. Red-tailed hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within their range, occurring on the edges of non-ideal habitats such as dense forests and sandy deserts. The red-tailed hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, agricultural fields and urban areas. Its latitudinal limits fall around the tree line in the Arctic and the species is absent from the high Arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico, and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Lesser roadrunner species of bird

The lesser roadrunner is a large, long-legged member of the cuckoo family, Cuculidae.

In biological classification, Neomorphidae is a proposed family of birds, separating the ground cuckoos from the rest of the cuckoo family. It is traditionally nested within the family Cuculidae as the subfamily Neomorphinae.

Lilac-breasted roller species of bird

The lilac-breasted roller is an African member of the roller family of birds. It is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa, and is a vagrant to the southern Arabian Peninsula. It prefers open woodland and savanna, and it is for the most part absent from treeless places. Usually found alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about on the ground. Nesting takes place in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2–4 eggs is laid, and incubated by both parents, who are extremely aggressive in defence of their nest, taking on raptors and other birds. During the breeding season the male will rise to a fair height, descending in swoops and dives, while uttering harsh, discordant cries. The sexes are different in coloration, and juveniles lack the long tail streamers of adults. This species is unofficially considered the national bird of Kenya. Alternate names for the lilac-breasted roller include the fork-tailed roller, lilac-throated roller and Mosilikatze's roller.

Square-tailed kite species of bird

The square-tailed kite is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, eagles and harriers.

Western diamondback rattlesnake species of reptile

The western diamondback rattlesnake or Texas diamond-back is a venomous rattlesnake species found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It is likely responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in northern Mexico and the greatest number of snakebites in the U.S. No subspecies are currently recognized.

Greater lophorina species of bird

The greater lophorina or greater superb bird-of-paradise is a species of the Paradisaeidae (bird-of-paradise) family. It was considered the sole species in the genus until in 2017 it was recognised that there were three species.

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is an endangered bird of Tasmania. It is a subspecies of the more common wedge-tailed eagle.

Pipipi species of bird

The pipipi, also known as brown creeper, New Zealand creeper, or New Zealand titmouse, is a small passerine bird endemic to the South Island of New Zealand. They are specialist insectivores, gleaning insects from branches and leaves. They have strong legs and toes for hanging upside down while feeding.

Pheasant cuckoo species of bird

The pheasant cuckoo is a species of neotropical cuckoo in the subfamily Neomorphinae of the Cuculidae family. It is native to Central and South America where it occurs in lowland tropical forest.

Channel-billed cuckoo species of bird

The channel-billed cuckoo is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It is monotypic within the genus Scythrops. The species is the largest brood parasite in the world, and the largest cuckoo.

Striped kingfisher species of bird

The striped kingfisher is a species of bird in the tree kingfisher subfamily. It was first described by Edward, Lord Stanley, in Salt's Voyage to Abyssinia in 1814 as "Chelicut kingfisher" Alaudo Chelicuti.

Greater roadrunner species of bird

The greater roadrunner is a long-legged bird in the cuckoo family, Cuculidae, from Southwestern United States and Mexico. The Latin name means "Californian earth-cuckoo". Along with the lesser roadrunner, it is one of two species in the roadrunner genus Geococcyx. This roadrunner is also known as the chaparral cock, ground cuckoo, and snake killer.

Cactus wren Desert adapted bird found in the southwest of the United States and in northern Mexico.

The cactus wren is a species of wren that is endemic to parts of the southwestern United States, as well as northern and central Mexico. There are eight generally recognized subspecies, and the nominate species has a brown crown, with notable white eyebrows that stretch to the nape of the neck. The wings and feathers are brown, but are marked with black and white spots. The tail, as well as certain flight feathers, are also alternatively barred in black and white. The chest is whiter, while the underparts are cinnamon-buff colored. Its song is harsh and raspy and has been described by ornithologists like a car engine that will not start.

References

Further reading