The Roadrunner

Wetlands Park Friends


Clark County Wetlands Park visitors often ask where they can see a Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus). The answer is, almost anywhere, if you’re lucky!!! Roadrunners are found only in the arid Southwest. Their most recent fame is due in part to the popular Warner Brothers cartoon series, “Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner.” 

As members of the Cuckoo (Cuculidae) family, the birds hold a striking resemblance to the Theropods, the large dinosaur family that has been linked to modern birds. This ancient dinosaur family is the one the Tyrannosaurus rex also belonged to, with short, front legs and long back legs, which enabled the big critters to run with great speed. 

When they run, head and tail parallel to the ground, roadrunners can maintain 17 mph over long distances. Their tracks are unmistakable “X”-shaped prints, with two toes facing forward and two backward. Roadrunners can fly short distances, but rarely do. These quick, agile, tough carnivores consume invertebrates, small birds and mammals, and especially lizards and snakes — even venomous rattlesnakes. Small prey is snapped up with the bill, and swallowed whole. Larger prey is seized by its head, or just behind its head, and repeatedly slammed into the ground to kill it.

I once watched a roadrunner eating some hors d’oeuvres — several large, winged grasshoppers! Within seconds, it snatched a few from a bush, leapt into the air to catch another in flight, and even grabbed one from the ground between its feet!

Enjoy this great video from National Geographic to see these fleet-footed birds in action:

Photo by Philip Martini