What Kind of Bird Is the Roadrunner?

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The name roadrunner is probably most commonly associated with the Looney Tunes' cartoon character, the Road Runner. Because of the cartoon character's all-blue plumage and its characteristic "Meep, Meep" sound, it's hard to believe there's a real bird out there with the same name.

The truth, however, is that the cartoon character was based on the real runner.

Physical Description

The roadrunner or Geococcyx californianus family consists of two members: the lesser roadrunner and the greater roadrunner. Both are similar in appearance, except that the greater roadrunner is larger and has a longer bill. While the cartoon character is bluish in appearance, the real roadrunner is black with light brown and white stripes.


The roadrunner is truly a fast runner. On flat surfaces, it can reach a speed of up to 18mph, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. One of the reasons the roadrunner prefers running to flying is that the speed is useful when hunting. This bird can easily catch rattlesnakes, scorpions and other venomous animals that are more likely to expect predators from the air. The roadrunner makes a "cyuk" sound to communicate, usually in the form of low, short chirps.


The roadrunner lives in the desert areas of Mexico and the southern United States, especially the states of Nevada, Kansas, Utah and California. Roadrunners belong to the Cuculidae family and are informally known as "ground cuckoos."

Cartoon Character

The comic Road Runner stars with Wile E. Coyote in a series of episodes in which the coyote desperately tries to capture or kill the Road Runner. He always fails. The cartoon character is based on the Greater Roadrunner. While the bird character is about the same size as the coyote, the real Greater Roadrunner is just 12 inches high. A coyote, on the other hand, can reach a height of 20 inches at the shoulder. In real life, the coyote would tower over the roadrunner, and not vice versa.