The Caracara Project

caracaraWay back in 2007 I worked on a research project studying the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway).  Sometimes this bird is referred to as the Carancho, Carrion Eagle, Mexican Buzzard, Mexican Eagle or Northern Caracara.  There are two subspecies of the Crested Caracara, one in North America, and one in Central/South America.  In history, there were probably one or two more that have gone extinct. There has been some discussion that the Caracara found in Florida are a distinct subspecies from their more western cousins in Texas and the Southwest.

Well anyways, I don’t want to make this a boring scientific post, so here are some of the photos I’ve taken during the research project and afterwards.  I guess I’m kind of missing them, so this is a walk down memory lane for me.  I’ll try to explain a little as we go.

Caracara and Turkey Vulture

Northern Caracara and Turkey Vulture at Broadmoor Marsh in Southern Brevard County.

Caracara are often found in the presence of Turkey Vultures.  They have a sort of hierarchy which includes the Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, and Black Vulture.  Of these three species the Bald Eagle will command respect and cause a caracara to back off.  A Turkey Vulture may or may not be invited to dine with a caracara, but on a one-to-one basis the caracara will feast first, in a group setting of many turkey vultures and one caracara, the turkey vultures may tolerate him, but sometimes will drive him off.  Black vultures never win.  They just hop around waiting for drippings

A mated pair of caracara will stay together for life, although the male often cheats if given the opportunity.

A mated pair of caracara will stay together for life, although they will sometimes cheat if given the opportunity.

A mated pair of Caracara are mates for life.  They choose a territory and stay there, although they may have many nesting sites throughout it.  If one mate dies, the survivor has been known to “grieve” and will eventually find another mate if given the opportunity.  Males are often smaller than females.  This pair was found at South Sarno Road, Melbourne, Florida in 2007.  This pair was of special interest because they both have beak deformity.

An Adult Caracara chases a Black Vulture at Viera Wetlands.

An Adult Caracara chases a Black Vulture at Viera Wetlands.

Once caracara establish a territory, they proceed to breed.  They almost always build nests in Cabbage Palms, but have been known to nest in other types of trees as well.  Once the breeding season begins (usually in the late summer and fall) the parents become extremely protective. They will chase off everything including Bald Eagles, Vultures, and Owls.  Sometimes, in fight with the Bald Eagles, it will be a fight to the death. The fledglings hatch and stay in the nest for a prolonged time.  Once fledged and out they stick around for up to a year, when the adults pretty much drive them away.  From there they join large roosts of juveniles where they will stay until about the age of 3 years.  Their plumage changes and goes through several phases during that time.

You may not know that the skin areas of a caracara, the face and legs, can flush a bright orange color or blanche into white/grey depending on the situation presented.

I have some more photos I am going to put into a gallery here.  If you have questions feel free to ask me!

I’ll be looking for more caracara for some newer photos! –  Jamie

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