Understanding Caracaras

This weekend Jo and I learned something totally new about the behavior of the Crested Caracaras that we see here in Florida. For a long time we’ve known that our best bet for spotting them is to watch the ground or on a post about eye level. The first time we ever spotted one we were in Kissimmee Prairie and saw one foraging under a picnic table in a park. Other times we’ve seen them on low branches of a tree or on the ground.

At Joe Overstreet landing along the east side of Lake Kissimmee we frequently see them on top of the posts watching over the cows or on the cow watering holes. Until this weekend we never really understood the truly symbiotic nature between the cow and the Caracara. Jo, my wife, and I were driving home from visiting the Stick Marsh near Fellsmere, the sun had almost set and we were less than a mile from reaching the I-95 entrance ramp near Vero Beach. Jo is an Eagle watcher so she spotted what looked like a couple of eagles on top of a phone pole in a field.

It took only a few seconds to slow down and make a U-turn at the next crossover and go back to where she spotted the Eagles. To our surprise there were two Caracaras on the pole instead of Eagles. The sun had already cleared the horizon behind us so darkness was beginning to fill the air with a lack of good light but I had to jump out of the car to get  a couple shots. Click, click, click and it was time to hop back in the car to head south. But, as I started to pack my camera safely in it’s traveling case I noticed something moving on the ground about 100 yards out in the field. It was a Juvenile Cara, Whoopee!  Jo picked him up in her super binoculars and I refocused my 500mm lens on the field in front of me to, at least, watch this bird learn how to hunt and feed itself.

While in the field we often see Eagles or Great Blue Heron parents training their chicks to forage and fend for themselves, but this was the first time seeing  Caracara juveniles in training  so we wanted to watch. What we saw with our own eyes not only astonished us but helped us better understand Caracara behavior. To our amazement we watched the Juveline Cara waddle over to a pile of cow poop and with one talon lift it up and look under it for food.

As he finished one pile he would waddle or fly to the next pile and do it all over again. 

 

Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that these birds forage under cow poop for food. No wonder we see them in the fields with the cows all the time. The cows are providing a unique refrigerator, so to speak, for their daily nutritional needs.

So, the next time you go searching for Caracas to photograph, pay close attention to the cow fields where you see a lot of cow poop. You may get lucky and see a Caracara parent teaching it’s young to forage for food.

Crested Caracara along the Eagle Trail in Central Florida.

Jon-Mark Davey, April 2018

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