May 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

What’s up??? © Tim Towles
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

While two biologists were checking the status of a known nest tree, State Biologist Tim Towles confirmed the presence of Crested Caracara nestlings with his Canon PowerShot SX50x Stabilized 24-1200 mm Zoom lens. Because nests with repeated human visitation often fail, they stayed 90 feet away and minimized the time spent in the area to avoid disturbing the nestlings or parents. In some situations, such as using a vehicle as a blind, or at parks with boardwalks and railings, birds tolerate humans closer than in the wild.

One of our prized Florida birds, the resident Crested Caracara, nests only in central Florida, southern Texas, and Arizona in the U.S. but though it does not migrate, its range is south to the Amazon, and is the national bird of Mexico. A related Caracara inhabits Southern South America. Conversion of ranches to citrus, sugar or subdivisions led to habitat loss and earned this species its federally Threatened status in 1987. Caracaras do not soar on thermals, swoop down from telephone wires or perch when hunting. Instead, Caracaras usually hunt early or late in the day by walking in open pastures, flying low along the ground or just above the treetops, foraging for mammals (31%), reptiles (24%), wade into shallow ponds after fish (24%), birds (13%) and amphibians (7%); 33% of these were scavenged from road kills.

While other falcons use old nests of other birds, Caracaras collect materials to construct or refurbish their own nest. They prefer to build nests in cabbage palms getting a commanding view of their surroundings. Amongst the fronds, see two curious heads poking up from the cabbage-palm nest. In 7 weeks, no longer downy, these chicks will be clambering about the branches and nest. At 2 months, the fledglings (88% of adult size) will join other youngsters and nonbreeding adults gregariously prospecting for food up to 35 miles away, but eventually return to their natal area. Caracaras roost communally all vocalizing loudly; their name derived from the Guarani Indian word descriptive of their unique rattling sound.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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