Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crested Caracara: the falcon that acts like a vulture and looks like an eagle.

By Wayne Meyer, PhD

Lately there have been several sightings of Crested Caracara in Texoma (see photo by Mike Chiles, Denison Dam, December 2010). This bird has a fascinating life history. Caracaras are birds of prey, but despite their large size and broad wings that get them mistaken for eagles, they are most closely related to falcons. Unlike other falcons, the Crested Caracara rarely takes prey in the air. Instead, Caracaras usually find prey by perching and waiting for the prey to go by, or they will cruise low over fields, not unlike the way Northern Harriers do. When a Caracara finds prey, it usually chases it on foot, which may explain why insects are a very large part of the Caracara’s diet.

Caracaras are relatively common in central Texas, although they had been in decline from the 1930s to 1980s. If you have ever driven past a chicken farm between Houston and Corpus Christi, you may have seen one feeding on carcasses of dead chickens. Their willingness to eat carrion means Caracaras are often found among groups of vultures, and one local name for them is Mexican Buzzard, which reflects their fondness for carrion.

Over the last few years, we have been seeing Caracaras more often at Hagerman NWR. One possible explanation for the increased sightings is that populations in Texas are recovering slowly from the effects of pesticides and persecution. Some experts suspect, however, that like lots of other southern species that are slowly moving northward, the Caracaras are responding to global climate change. As human caused warming has occurred, the Caracara, White-winged Dove, Great-tailed Grackle and several other species have expanded their ranges northward.

To learn more about birds and other wildlife at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, visit the official Refuge website,, and for information about activities and events, please see

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