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12.8: Geococcyx californianus: Roadrunner

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Common Name

  • Greater Roadrunner
  • California Roadrunner
  • Chaparral Cock


The greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) length is 58 cm. Its wingspan is 43-61 cm. The greater roadrunner is a dark brown-black, the breast is white, and its eyes are a bright yellow. After the ostrich, it is the fastest bird alive. However, unlike the ostrich, it is capable of weak flight as well as running.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Cuculiformes
  • Family: Cuculidae
  • Genus: Geococcyx
  • Species: Geococcyx californiaus


The habitat of the greater roadrunner is in the Southwest of the United States of America, and Northern Mexico. It lives in the desert, coastal, and inland regions and it tends to inhabit areas with chaparral and coastal sage scrub.


Cell Biology

Geococcyx californianus, like all other animals, has eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus, whereas a prokaryotic cell has no nucleus. Eukaryotic cells have many organelles, which are like small organs. One of these organelles is the nucleus. The nucleus is like the brain of the cell, the cell membrane is the skin of the cell. There are two type of cell division. Mitosis is when cells grow and divided with the same DNA. Meiosis is when the new cells have half of the chromosomes in the original cell.


Although nobody knows what the Geococcyx californius exactly evolved from, all birds branched off of dinosaurs called Theropods. The most bird-like Theropod was Deinonychus. Living 110 million years ago, Deinonychus was a carnivorous non-bird dinosaur that shared similar features to modern birds, such as talons, feathers, wings, and other parts. Scientists don't know how the wings evolved into what they are today, but there are theories on why. One of the theories is that ancient bird-like ancestors used their wings to glide or jump over their enemies and/or catch their prey.


The predators of the greater roadrunner are hawks, coyotes, house cats, skunks, and raccoons. The greater roadrunner is an omnivore, meaning it eats meat and vegetation. Its diet includes birds, small mammals, reptiles, eggs, insects, fruit, and seed. Since the greater roadrunner is an omnivore, it can hydrate itself by collecting water among its moisture-rich diet when a water source can’t be found or accessed. The lifespan of the greater roadrunner ranges from 7-8 years in the wild. The greater roadrunner lays 2-8 eggs.

Anatomy and Physiology

Like other birds, the greater roadrunner has a four-chambered heart. Its digestive system includes a crop for food storage and feeding young, and a gizzard for grinding food. They also have hollow bones to allow flight, even though the flight of the greater roadrunner is weak. The greater roadrunner can run as fast as 17-26 mph.


The Geococcyx californianus is not a migratory bird. Its song is made up of six slow chirps in a continuously deepening pitch. Both parents tend their young for 17 to 19 days after hatching, until the young leave the nest. Even when the young leaves the nest, the parents still tend to them for up to 30 to 40 days. The greater roadrunner mates for life and is very territorial. The greater roadrunner protects itself by running. The roadrunner sometimes gets its food by using a rock and smashing its prey.




  • Allan S. Amante
  • Christian E. Moller

Supervising Faculty

  • Amy Huff Shah


  • Museum School, San Diego, California


  • Published prior to review.

Edit History

  • Created: April 5, 2013
  • Version 1.0 submitted to CK-12: July 11, 2013
  • CK-12 edits: in progress


  • Middle School (grades 6-8)

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Date Created:
Jul 18, 2013
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Jan 30, 2016
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