Adaptations of the roadrunner in the desert

Updated February 21, 2017

The roadrunner is a bird that is commonly found in the southwestern and western regions of the U.S. The scientific name of the roadrunner is Geococcyx californianus and has adapted its physical and mental attributes to survive successfully in the arid desert regions of the southwest.


The roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo species native to the U.S. The roadrunner has adapted to run at high speed through the desert to remain camouflaged and avoid recognition from predators and to hunt successfully. The bird is often found running on desert roads or through areas of desert vegetation at speeds of up to 35.7 kph (16 miles per hour). The bird has developed a brown speckled and white feathered exterior that allows it to blend into the arid surroundings of the desert.


The roadrunner has adapted over its history to reach a large size, of around 60 cm (2 feet) high. The large size of the roadrunner has allowed the bird to prey on larger animals found in the desert, including gophers, mice, rats and snakes. It also feeds on small animals such as insects and lizards. In periods of food shortages the roadrunner has been known to eat its own young.


To adapt to its natural habitat of the desert the roadrunner does not require large amounts of water to survive. Along with the water the roadrunner finds in the bodies of its prey the bird also occasionally eats the fruits of the desert plants in its habitat. To conserve its energy the roadrunner has adapted its body to lower its temperature at night to combat the desert chill. In the morning it exposes a patch of dark skin on its back to be heated by solar radiation, raising its daytime body temperature.


The roadrunner has adapted to be a monogamous bird, which mates with a single bird of the opposite sex for its lifetime. Pairs of roadrunners stay together to protect a territory used to incubate eggs and raise their young. Both roadrunners in a mating pair raise their young over a period of between 18 and 21 days until they are capable of feeding themselves. To protect eggs and young roadrunners from predators the bird builds a nest between 90 cm and 4.5 m (3 and 15 feet) from the ground insulated with materials including snakeskins for warmth. When required the roadrunner is capable of using its short, round wings to achieve lift and fly over short distances.

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About the Author

Paul Cartmell began his career as a writer for documentaries and fictional films in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Working in documentary journalism, Cartmell wrote about a wide variety of subjects including racism in professional sports. Cartmell attended the University of Lincoln and London Metropolitan University, gaining degrees in journalism and film studies.