I’m Nuts About Crested Caracaras

By Dan Weisz

Crested Caracaras are one of the more unusual birds we have in Southern Arizona. Their looks alone place them in that category but they are more than just a ‘pretty’ bird. Crested Caracaras are raptors in the falcon family but they are more like distance cousins to falcons. Most falcons are sleek, bullet-shaped birds of prey who use speed to catch their prey. Crested Caracara are bulkier and usually catch their prey on the ground. Additionally, they will eat carrion as readily as they will eat live prey and their food choice ranges from insects to larger mammals.

The Crested Caracara in these photos was part of a small group found in agricultural fields of Santa Cruz Flats. These birds have a hawk’s typical large talons and sharp beak and is a black and white bird. It has long yellowish legs and a large black cap set against a white neck and yellow-orange face.

This Crested Caracara was walking along and examining the pecans that had fallen off of nearby pecan trees. Perhaps it had taken some from the trees. By the way, Crested Caracaras are about two feet long with a four foot wingspan.

I like the active look of this bird. You can see a number of pecan shells around its feet. Caracaras are very social birds and, I believe, are very intelligent.

Although Crested Caracaras are meat (and carrion) eaters, it seems as if they also will eat pecans in these agricultural areas. Here it it holding a pecan in one foot while breaking it open and eating the nut inside.

I’m not sure why, but it’s got a good grip on its toe now.

I like the action in this final shot. Although the Crested Caracara is walking away, it has turned to look back. Check out that muddy right foot and the incredible talon at the back of its foot.

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