Greater Roadrunner. I’ll bet you are already smiling—remembering Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), is actually a member of the cuckoo family and prefers running to flight. According to Oklahoma Birds, by G. M. Sutton (1967), the roadrunner is found across the entire state, being more common west than east, and is strictly non-migratory. They tend to nest 3-15 feet high in trees or vegetation and normally lay 3-6 eggs that are white.
The diet of the roadrunner includes lizards, skinks, grasshoppers and other insects, and sometimes dog food, left outside for pets. Dr. Sutton, who had raised a roadrunner when he was 15 years old, used to wonder what the birds ate in winter, something he never got answered to his satisfaction.
Winter diet is important because the Greater Roadrunner appears to be especially susceptible to icy weather. During winters 1978-9 and 1979-80, we had severe icy weather for several days at a stretch. Afterward the roadrunner population decreased to almost zero in central Oklahoma. It was about a dozen years before the roadrunner recovered relatively well. It continues to be a rare treat to see a roadrunner in central Oklahoma, especially in winter, and it is a particularly rare event for one to grace our Christmas Bird Count.
The other day it struck me as an interesting thought that the roadrunner has several reptilian-like features. I was further encouraged in this thought when I read the roadrunner account, written by Dr. Sutton, in A.C. Bent’s Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, Goatsuckers, Hummingbirds, and Their Allies (reprint 1989). At one point Doc said that the roadrunner strikes one as “…half bird, half reptile…” As paleontologists find more and more similarities between dinosaurs and birds, I raise one further question not wholly in jest. If birds are descended from dinosaurs, should not roadrunners appear earlier in the phylogenetic order than loons and grebes, two groups of birds that appear to have fewer reptilian characteristrics than the roadrunner? Another possibility is that the reptilian features of the roadrunner were secondarily acquired long after birds evolved (and therefore the roadrunner is appropriately placed in its present phylogenetic order). If anyone can shed further light on this point I would be interested in hearing it. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.