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November 2010 cover image Kiss Me!

Wild Thing: What’s for Dinner? Anything!

The crested caracara is hardly a picky eater.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Whenever the munchies strike, a crested caracara will eat just about anything. By wing and on foot, this odd raptor hunts snakes, insects, fish, birds and mammals. It also dines on carrion with vultures, downs eggs when found and snacks on pecans.

Regurgitated food’s on the menu, too. Caracaras sometimes bully vultures and other birds into vomiting. In the early 1890s, Capt. B.F. Goss saw that happen to brown pelicans near Laguna Madre off the South Texas coast. “When these birds were returning to their breeding ground, with pouches filled with fish, the caracaras would attack them until they disgorged, and then alight and devour their stolen prey,” he reported.

In Texas, Caracara cheriway inhabits semi-open grasslands and mesquite savannahs found in southern and central regions. Medium sized, an adult caracara has bright orange feet, an orange-skinned face, a curved blue bill and a top crest of black feathers. Pairs mate for life and share in raising two or three young a year.

Caracaras act odd in other ways, too. While emitting their static, rattle-like call, they often throw their head backward, all the way to their shoulders. Observers have associated the behavior with both courtship and staking out territories or food.

 

FYI:

Some people claim this species — also called a “Mexican eagle” — is Mexico’s national bird. But ask a native if that’s true, and you’ll get a funny look. A national bird? The country’s national seal and coat of arms, however, does feature a raptor — the golden eagle, not a crested caracara.

 

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