Greater Roadrunner: Large, ground-dwelling cuckoo with overall brown, white and buff streaked appearance. Head has a shaggy crest. Face has blue and orange bare patch of skin behind eyes. Tail is long. Eats insects, lizards, snakes, rodents, small birds and fruits and seeds. Can run up to 15 mph.
Range and Habitat
Greater Roadrunner: Resident throughout much of the desert regions of southern and southwestern United Sates, and also Central America. Most common in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and the South Texas brushlands. Their habitat includes open, arid habitats with shrubs and thickets, desert scrub, chaparral, savannah, open brush-lands and open woodlands.
Cuckoos and Roadrunners (Cuculidae)
The taxonomic order CUCULIFORMES (pronounced koo-koo-lih-FOR-meez) is composed of just one family, the cuckoos.
Included in the Cuculidae (pronounced koo-KOO-lih-dee) family are one hundred and forty-six species of cuckoos in thirty genera found on all continents (especially Asia) except for Antarctica.
North America has twenty-five species of the Cuculidae in ten genera. This family includes the arboreal cuckoos, all dark anis, and the terrestrial roadrunners.
Although the Common Cuckoo of Eurasia is most well known for depositing its eggs in the nests of other bird species, most cuckoos that breed in North America do not share this behavior. However, one species that has been documented as an occasional brood parasite is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a bird also known for calling before rain storms hence its nickname the “rain crow”.
Cuckoos are lanky, long-tailed birds medium to large in size. While arboreal species such as the Black-billed Cuckoo have rather short legs, the roadrunners have long, strong legs perfect for their terrestrial habits. All species have zygodactyl feet (two toes pointing forwards and two pointing backwards). Migratory species have long, pointed wings and resident species such as the anis and roadrunners have short, broad wings. The bills of cuckoos are rather long and slightly decurved, the exception being the stout, arched bills of the anis.
Somber colors may be typical for the plumages of North American species, but plumage patterns vary. While the anis are entirely black, the Common and Oriental Cuckoos have mostly gray plumage with black barring on the underparts, and the Mangrove, Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos have brown upperparts, white or creamy underparts, and black on the face. These all have white spots in the tail, a feature also shared by the Greater Roadrunner although the rest of its plumage is streaky brown and white. Yellow and red is shown by some cuckoos in their bills and facial skin (blue in the case of roadrunners).
In North America, cuckoos are distributed in non-forest and edge habitats from the southern edge of the boreal zone, south into the tropics. The Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos are mostly eastern birds of forest edge and second growth, the similar Mangrove Cuckoo is restricted to mangroves in southern Florida. The Smooth-billed Ani also occurs in southern Florida, while the Groove-billed Ani resides in southern Texas. Texas is also home to the Greater Roadrunner, a bird of desert and scrub from Arkansas south and west to California. Other species of cuckoos recorded in the United States and Canada are vagrants from Asia and South America.
Although the anis and Greater Roadrunner are permanent residents, the other cuckoo species migrate to Central and South America.
While anis are very social birds that live in family groups and build communal nests, other cuckoos are solitary in nature. The anis forage together in scrub and on the ground for small creatures, and pick ticks off the backs of livestock. The Greater Roadrunner also forages on the ground, dashing after lizards and other small animals. The other North American cuckoo species forage for insects (especially their larvae) in bushes and trees.
No cuckoo species are threatened or endangered in North America.
Caterpillars make up a large part of the diet of both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. They even take caterpillars with spines or hairs that other birds won’t eat. Cuckoos are able to deal with the irritating hairs by periodically shedding the lining of their stomachs.