Thursday, July 6, 2017

Crested Caracara

The Impossible Visitor

Crested Caracara [Internet Photo]
There has been an elusive raptor flying in southwestern New Brunswick for nearly two months.  It was first reported in early May and was considered a false report by many.  It was relocated about a week ago in the Lake Utopia area and seen by just a handful of people.  It was coming to roadkill on a road east of the lake and first viewed by a passerby.  A blurry photo confirmed its presence.  I think I saw this bird on May 8.  It was with ravens and flew across the road quickly in front of our car.  I noted the white on the rounded wingtips and could not identify it at the time.  The species is so rare here one does not immediately think of it as a possibility.

Crested Caracara [Internet Photo]
The Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is a large raptor.  It is classified as a falcon but does not look much like a sleek falcon.  It is 58 cm (23 in) long with a wide wingspan.  It associates with scavengers like ravens and vultures.  It has a long white head and neck, long yellow legs, black crest, orange facial skin, grey blue beak, black body, white tail with a black terminal band.  When it flies it shows characteristic rounded wings with large white wingtip patches.  This species usually is close to the ground either walking or perched on nearby poles or trees.  

Crested Caracara with Turkey Vulture [Internet Photo]
Why is this species the 'impossible visitor'?  Well, it is so far out of its range it is seemingly impossible for it to be here.  Its normal range is in Central and South America.  It is a permanent resident of Texas, Central Florida, southeastern Arizona but mainly in Mexico, Panama, some Caribbean Islands, and northern South America.  What is it doing here?  The species is nonmigratory but occasionally there are vagrants that wander to Minnesota, Ontario and the Maritimes.  This must be the year!  Actually, there was one here a number of years ago.  I saw that one in northern New Brunswick on 29 October 2002.  It stayed a few days and was seen by many.  

The Crested Caracara is a scavenger and prefers to feed on carrion as well as small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, eggs, and small birds.  Sometimes a group of caracaras work together to capture prey.  

This is a very interesting species to show up here.  I hope it stays long enough to be seen by many who would appreciate it for its uniqueness.  According to the literature, it is a common subject of folklore and legends throughout Central and South America.  It is sometimes called the 'Mexican Eagle'.  If you see a handsome long-legged hawk that is associating with vultures this summer, please leave a message on the Nature Moncton Information Line at 506-384-6397 or leave a comment on this blog.  A photograph is helpful but never disturb the bird in order to get it.  Happy Birding!

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