What looks like a hawk, acts like a vulture, but is actually a falcon? The answer: the crested caracara.
It has been quite awhile since I’ve seen a crested caracara. The first (and only) time I’ve seen one was on our trip to South Padre Island, Texas about seven years ago.
We decided to take an afternoon and drive through the Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge. I should mention that when we went down to this part of Texas, they were still in the middle of a drought–so areas of the wildlife refuge that usually were submerged in water were dried up and grass was growing.
So while we didn’t see any alligators in the area, we did manage to see some birds.
One of those birds was the crested caracara.
The caracara is a bulky looking raptor with a flat head topped with a shaggy crest. The adults have black and white feathers, yellow-orange legs and yellow-orange skin around their beaks. The shaggy black crest is a stark contrast to the rest of the white feathers on their head. Though it is difficult to tell their legs are yellow-orange from the distance I took the pictures (also the fact I was in a vehicle as well).
In terms of location–they are a resident in southern parts of Texas, a small area of Arizona, and possibly a little pocket in Florida; otherwise they’re found in Mexico and parts of Central America.
They don’t migrate, so depending on where you’re looking you should be able to spot one year round. They prefer open areas–mainly so they have a good running start to take off in flight.
This can include deserts, grasslands, range lands, and scrub brush areas. They can be spotted sitting on posts, or on top of cacti, yuccas, and other tall items.
In terms of their diet–it usually consists of carrion (dead animals), but they will also eat live animals such as insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and other birds.
Depending on location and food sources, the caracara is actually a resourceful forager in times when there is no carrion around. They have been seen wading into shallow waters after fish, and using their feet to dig up both turtle eggs and insects.
While their primary diet is carrion, they actually have to rely on vultures and other animals to open up larger carcasses before being able to join in on the feeding.
Since it has been years since I’ve seen a caracara, my photography goals now include: getting a picture of one walking on the ground or just getting ready for take off, a picture of young/immature caracaras near (or in) the nest, and possibly a crisper picture of one sitting on top of a cacti (or yucca).