Lesser Roadrunner

Lesser Roadrunner

Geococcyx velox
Population size
500,000-5 M
Life Span
7-8 yrs
32 km/h
162-207 g
46-51 cm

The Lesser roadrunner is a large fast-running ground cuckoo from Mesoamerica. It resembles the Greater roadrunner in appearance and habit but is smaller, with a less streaked throat and chest, brownish on the rump, and on the outer wings and yellowish undersides. The Lesser roadrunner also has a significantly shorter bill. Its crown, crest, and neck are black with a bronze glow and small light brown spots. Young roadrunners resemble adults but have ocher-colored lines and duller skin around the eye.


Lesser roadrunners breed in southwestern Mexico, north into the western side of the Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with northern Central America and a disjunct range in the northern Yucatán Peninsula. These birds inhabit open ground areas, with scrub and thorny bushes. They also adapt to cultivated land such as henequen and cornfields.

Lesser Roadrunner habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Lesser roadrunners are very territorial birds and are usually seen singly or in pairs. They spend most of their time on the ground, running in open areas, along roads or under cover. Despite that the birds are capable of limited flight especially when escaping predators and may perch in bushes or low trees. Lesser roadrunners are diurnal and often bask in the early morning, on a fence post or bush. They cock their tail and droop their wings, then turn their back towards the sun, raising the scapular feathers and exposing their black skin which absorbs heat. They may preen themselves as well. Their call is a series of soft "cooing", about one note per second, made three to seven times on a descending scale.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Lesser roadrunners are omnivores. They are opportunistic feeders, however, grasshoppers make up a significant portion part of their diet, as do caterpillars. The birds also eat seeds, fruit, small reptiles, and frogs. They forage around roadsides for large insects and roadkill.

Mating Habits

Mexinco in April-July, El Salvador in August
1-2 weeks
2-4 eggs

Lesser roadrunners are monogamous and mate for life. In Mexico, these birds breed between April and July, and in El Salvador in August. They build their nest in a low tree, a thorn bush or in prickly pear, about 2 meters off the ground. Their nests are strong and compact, built in the shape of a cup with sturdy grass stems and twigs, with a diameter of ca 14.5 cm. The eggs, which are white in color are laid in clutches of 2 to 4. Both male and female roadrunners incubate and feed the hatchlings. The chicks stay with their parents for about 1 or 2 weeks and then become independent.


Population threats

There are no major threats facing the Lesser roadrunner at present.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Lesser roadrunner population size is around 500,000-4,999,999 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Latin name of the Lesser roadrunner means "swift earth-cuckoo".
  • Roadrunners have a small unfeathered area just below their chin which they flutter in order to diffuse heat, same as using a fan.
  • Roadrunners have four toes on each foot. Two facing forward and two facing backward so they leave behind very distinct "X" track marks appearing as if they are traveling in both directions. They also can hang on easily when they are perching.
  • When hunting, roadrunners usually run after prey from undercover. They may leap to catch insects, and usually batter certain prey against the ground.
  • Because of their quickness, roadrunners are one of the few animals that prey upon rattlesnakes; they are also the only real predators of tarantula hawk wasps.
  • During the cold desert night, roadrunners lower their body temperature slightly, going into a slight torpor to conserve energy.
  • 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.)
  • 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.


1. Lesser Roadrunner on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_roadrunner
2. Lesser Roadrunner on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22684461/93031417

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