Can Roadrunners Fly? (Everything Explained)

Roadrunners are fast running ground cuckoos mainly spotted running about in the desert in the southwestern and south-eastern parts of the United States and Mexico. They are generally always seen running on the ground, so can roadrunners fly?

Roadrunners are capable of flight, but generally only for short distances, usually only seconds, as they aren't built for it. They can reach impressive speeds upwards of 25 mph whilst running, which is one of the main reasons that flying is more of a last resort.

Although roadrunners are unable to fly for long distances, they are actually the fastest running bird on earth, that is also capable of flight, albeit a short distance.

Continue reading to find out reasons why roadrunners don't fly, along with some more interesting facts.

Roadrunner in flight

Roadrunner in flight

Why do roadrunners not fly?

Generally speaking, Roadrunners choose not to fly as they can only maintain flight for short distances of less than a minute. Instead, they tend to try and outrun any potential danger, such as predators like hawks and coyotes.

Roadrunners lack a keel on their breastbone, which is found in birds that are capable fliers. The keel, also known as the carina, is an extension of the breastbone, which acts as an attachment point for large pectoral muscles, which are required for prolonged flight. Instead, roadrunners have tiny pectoral muscles which means that sustaining flight for more than a few seconds is simply impossible - it also makes gliding difficult, too!

The wings of a roadrunner are fairly short and rounded, which is different to most other birds. This is another reason they aren't particularly good fliers and tend only to fly to perch high on a post or branch.

Greater Roadrunner leaping from a rock

Greater Roadrunner leaping from a rock

Roadrunners have strong legs and feet, which gives them fantastic running abilities. Two of their toes face forward, and two face backwards. This incredible speed and ability is the reason they became aptly named 'roadrunners'.

This is because they can reach running speeds in excess of 25 mph (40 km/h), which means that roadrunners are extremely fast. Not only is this running speed great for avoiding predators, but it also comes in handy when catching fast prey on the ground, such as lizards, mice and rabbits. When they're not running, roadrunners still tend to walk fast, looking out for their next tasty meal. Once they have spotted some suitable prey, they will accelerate after it and snatch it or stun the target with their beaks.

Roadrunner in the desert

Roadrunner in the desert

Low nesting areas

Roadrunners nest close to the ground, because they aren't accomplished fliers. Nests are generally constructed a few feet off the ground in a suitable tree, thorny bush or cactus, usually surrounded by extensive woody vegetation or thickets, which act as an extra layer of protection and security from any predators.

Flight and migration

It should come as no surprise that roadrunners are sedentary, and do not migrate. This is because their inability to fly would essentially mean that they'd have to migrate on foot. Instead, they can be found in deserts all year round.

How far can roadrunners fly?

Most of the time, when Roadrunners fly, it's only for very short distances of around 5 metres. Generally, this is when they are flying between treetops or as a last resort to avoid predation by flying high into a tree or a concealed area.

Roadrunners have minimal flying abilities, and this often means when they fly for longer distances, it usually involves gliding from either their nest or a high perch, with long, extended wings.

The flight tends to be a short succession of occasional flaps for a few seconds, before gliding to a landing.

Roadrunners can jump high into the sky from the ground

Roadrunners can jump high into the sky from the ground

How high can roadrunners fly?

There is little known as to how high roadrunners can fly, however, the majority of the time, they'll only reach heights of around 10 feet whilst flying.

Although they don't tend to fly at high altitudes, Roadrunners are capable of jumping into the air high to catch insects and sometimes other birds to eat. This is down to the strength they have in their feet and legs.

How fast can roadrunners fly?

Because of their lack of flight skills, there have been no studies carried out on the speed of how fast roadrunners can fly. However, when it comes to running, they have been recorded reaching top speeds of up to 27 mph (43 km/h).

What age can roadrunners fly at?

It takes roughly 24 days after hatching for roadrunners to reach an age where they are able to fly.

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