have a raspy, grunting vocal sound when gossiping with one another
or trying to get a date. Nature photographer Greg Lasley says, “During
the vocalization the bird thrusts its head sharply upward, and sometimes
it’s thrust so far that the bird’s head is upside down over its
They have no real natural predators who prey on them for food except
for man, since they spend a great deal of time on the ground. They
will make a shrieking noise when they feel threatened and throw
their heads back in the air then snap them forward so hard and fast,
you wonder why they don’t break their little necks. Their facial
skin color may change from orangey-red to yellow when excited or
threatened. They make a sound that is very harsh, and sounds like
“cara cara” that gives them their name. When mating the same head-rolling
and rattling are also things the male does to attract a mate. They
must get this idea from watching Mick Jagger videos.
The nest of the Caracara is quite large and made of twigs and such.
Many layers are used, with a new layer added each year. In many
cases they will reuse the same nest year after year. The female
will lay two or three eggs and the male helps to warm and incubate
them during the 28 days it takes them to hatch. The adults eat mainly
carrion but they do kill fresh meat for their young, who remain
in the nest for three months minimum, sometimes longer. Like human
kids, it’s not easy to get your young ones to leave home either,
considering it’s free room and board.
Caracaras will fly the highways nearly every morning to eat animals
that traffic has killed during the night and if they’re unable to
pick apart the carrion themselves, they wait for kin vulture to
do so and then move in and take it away from him. Hey, nobody said
they were stupid.
One strange behavior they do have is that they will attack brown
pelicans returning to the nest with food for their young, forcing
them to disgorge what they’ve caught and then stealing it. I suppose
they could market that as “predigested” the way they market cars
as “pre-owned.” Either that or they choose only bulemic pelicans.
They will also watch for turtles laying eggs and dig those up assuming,
I guess, that the turtles, which do not return to the nest, will
never find out.
Caracaras will scratch like chickens for worms and insects, and
hunt small animals such as skunks, ‘possums, rats, squirrels, frogs,
crabs and even young alligators.
This bird has been called Caracara Eagle, King Buzzard, Mexican
Eagle, Audubon’s Caracara, and Mexican Buzzard.
Groups of birds in general are called a “flock,” but really interesting
birds have special names, like a murmuration of starlings, an exaltation
of larks, a charm of goldfinches. However, the Caracara, being related
to so many others, has a choice of four: convocation of eagles,
cast of falcons, venue of vultures (unless they are flying in which
case they’d be a kettle of vultures), or a wake of buzzards.
Speaking of buzzards, two of them were preparing to migrate north
for the summer but, after talking about it, they decided they were
too old to fly all that way, so they decided to take a plane. As
they were about to board the aircraft, the flight attendant, noticing
that both buzzards were carrying a dead armadillo, asked, "Would
you like to check those armadillos through as luggage?" "No thanks,"
the buzzards replied, "they're carrion."
Balloon In Cactus" September 17, 2010 column