Crested Caracara

 Crested Caracara

©Darlene B. Durham 2014

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, birds, crested caracara, education, education series

Photo Courtesy of Dick Loehr

 

We are fortunate to occasionally have the crested caracara visit us at TGO.  They are a threatened species so sightings are very special.  They are also referred to as “Mexican Eagle” and “Audubon’s Caracara”.  I have had a couple of residents at TGO approach me about a “chicken” or “rooster” they have seen.  I think what they actually saw was the crested caracara.  Thank you Dick Loehr for the great photo above.

The crested caracara is a large bird of prey, also called a raptor, with a length ranging from 19.7 to 25.2 inches.  Its wingspan is approximately 48 inches.  It is a member of the falcon family.  The adult crested caracara’s body, crown and crest are black while the remainder of the head and neck area is white. The bird’s chest is barred black and white.  Its wings are long and rounded with some white patches.  It has a thick dark-bluish hooked bill with reddish orange skin between the eyes and bill.  They have long yellow legs with large talons.

Adult males and females look the same.  In contrast to the mostly black coloration of adults, juvenile birds will be mostly brown and less colorful than their parents.

The crested caracara can often be seen with vultures as they both eat carrion.  The crested caracara is a strong flier but prefers to spend much of its time on the ground.  To tell the difference between a crested caracara and a vulture while in flight, look for the large head and beak, long tail and neck and the white patches on the underside of the crested caracara.

Crested caracaras in Brevard are non-migratory and can be found here year round.  However, since they are a threatened species, it is a real treat to actually be able to see them.  They are more prevalent west of I-95 and east of the St. Johns River.  Crested caracaras’ habitats include prairies with cabbage palms, pastures, grassland, open scrublands and wooded areas with saw palmettos, scrub oaks and cypress.   They can also be found on cattle ranches.

These birds may be seen on elevated perches such as utility poles and fence posts looking for dead animals such as armadillos, raccoons and opossums.  In addition to eating carrion, their diet consists of snakes, frogs, turtles, turtle eggs, lizards, fish and other birds.  They will also dig the ground for insects.  Crested caracaras have been known to eat larger animals and birds such as rabbits and cattle egrets.  In order to subdue these larger birds and animals, a pair of crested caracaras may work together.

Crested caracaras generally are monogamous and very territorial.  There is little information about the reproduction of these birds. In Florida, crested caracara eggs have been seen from September to April.  Breeding season for these birds appears to peak between January and March.

Crested caracaras nests in taller trees and shrubs and their nests are constructed of twigs, grasses, briars, dry weed stalks and long segments of vine.  A crested caracara pair will produce an average of two eggs which are white to beige with heavy brown spots and blotches.  The egg incubation period is approximately 32 to 33 days.  The newly hatched birds are covered in down and they are born helpless.  The juvenile birds will reach adult size at about five weeks and they will fledge at about seven to eight weeks.  At three to four years old, the birds will reach sexual maturity.

We are lucky these fascinating birds have visited TGO and hopefully we can have a pair nest here.  So in addition to the other wonderful wildlife we have, we can add these rare birds to our list.  Get out and enjoy all that nature provides for us here at TGO and maybe you can spot a crested caracara!  Scroll down to see more photos of the crested caracara.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Bird, Education, Crested Caracara

Photo Courtesy of Darlene Durham

 

A crested caracara on Grande Haven Drive in July of 2014.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Bird, Education, Crested Caracara

Photo Courtesy of Darlene Durham

 

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see some of the white on the tail. This is one thing to look for when trying to identify a crested caracara in flight.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Bird, Education, Crested Caracara

Photo Courtesy of Darlene Durham

 

This pair of crested caracaras was seen on Grande Haven Drive in July 2014. Click on the photo to enlarge it and check out those talons!  If you look closely at the two birds, the feathers of the one on the left are darker, the bars on the neck are more defined and the color of the legs and face are brighter.  The feathers on the bird on the right are browner with less defined bars on the neck and duller colored legs and face.  The pair could be an adult and a juvenile.

To see more photographs of Crested Caracaras, click on this Crested Caracara Photo Album link.

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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