Name a more iconic bird than the roadrunner. Well, perhaps it is only iconic if you grew up watching Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Nonetheless, these desert dwellers are still fascinating creatures. There are two different species - the greater roadrunner (Geococcyx calfornianus) of Mexico and the southwest/south-central United States and the lesser roadrunner (Geococcyx velox) of Mexico and Central America. Both are very similar in their behaviors, including feeding and nesting habits.
Roadrunners build their nests in shaded, well-hidden areas three to ten feet off the ground. Nests are often perched on the horizontal branch of a tree or in the crook of a large bush. Because roadrunners frequently use roads, trails, and streambeds for navigation, nests are often built alongside these routes. Doing so allows for less energy expenditure when carrying materials back for nest building or bringing food for nestlings.
Habitats include deserts and open grass-and-scrublands. They can also occur in canyons and, at higher elevations, in pinyon-juniper woodlands. The species is most common in the Sonoran Desert. Generally, roadrunners are not well adapted to living closely with people. They avoid the hustle and bustle of populated areas, but they may build their nests near homes in rural locations.
The Roadrunner has a host of fascinating and even quirky behaviors. Read on to learn more about their nest building, mating habits, and more!
Roadrunners build their nests in secluded places, usually between three and ten feet from the ground
When building a nest, male roadrunners bring materials back to the female. She will then set the nest up to her liking. Nesting materials usually consist of twigs and small branches lined with feathers, grasses, roots, and snakeskin.
The completed nest is a compact platform with a four-inch deep nest cup. In total, it can reach over seventeen inches in diameter and eight inches in height. Sometimes the parents will continue working on the nest long after the eggs incubation period, building up the sides as the nestlings grow.
Females can be pretty particular during the nest-building process. If a male ceases his material-gathering too long, the female will begin urging him to get back to it with a distinct vocalization. You could say this is similar to when we start to lose our patience with a partner if they get too distracted.
Roadrunner collecting nesting material
Typically speaking, Roadrunners start building their nests between March and October. Although, it can begin later in the northernmost regions of the roadrunner’s range or at higher elevations.
It may come as a surprise, but the roadrunners’ habitat can range from anywhere between sea level to high desert regions nearing 10,000 feet in elevation.
Roadrunner pairs will sometimes reuse a nest from a previous year. Occasionally, they may even lay their eggs in another bird’s nest. Mocking bird or common raven nests are often considered suitable as they are similar in size.
Close up of a Roadrunner
Roadrunners may lay their eggs anytime within nesting season, between March and October. On average, they lay three to five eggs per brood. Both male and female roadrunners take part in all aspects of rearing their young, including incubation and feeding. The eggs incubation period lasts about twenty days.
Juveniles may begin leaving the nest and catching food for themselves roughly twenty days after hatching. The young are still fed by both parents, though, for about thirty to forty days.
Roadrunner eggs are typically white to pale yellow. Sometimes they may appear mottled with brown or gray.
The size of roadrunner eggs ranges from about 3.5-4.6 cm (1.4 - 1.8 in) in length and 2.8-3.3 cm (1.1 - 1.3in) in width.
Roadrunner perched on a tree branch
Typically, roadrunners will have one to two broods per year. However, on some occasions, a mated pair will have up to three.
Three separate nests in a year are unlikely unless it has been a good breeding season. If resources are plentiful, the roadrunners can afford to expend the extra energy to raise and provide enough food for multiple broods.
Roadrunners will nest in trees, such as juniper or pinyon, when a suitable one is available.
If their habitat consists more of open grass-and-shrublands, roadrunners will choose a dense shrub for nesting. In some regions, this may include creosote, mesquite, or chaparral. They will also build their nests in the crook of a cactus.
Roadrunner with a grasshopper to feed its young
Roadrunner pairs do mate for life. They also renew their bonds each spring by performing an elaborate courtship ritual.
Together, mates share many of the same responsibilities. As mentioned earlier, both male and female roadrunners participate in nest building and caring for their young. In addition, the pairs share guardianship of their territory. Both will patrol and run off any unwelcome visitors.
The roadrunner is a beguiling and fun species to witness. The way they rush about at unimaginable speeds or perch to sing their low, mournful coo. They are absolutely one of a kind. If you ever find yourself in the desert southwest, Mexico, or Central America, I hope you get the opportunity to witness one for yourself.
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