The Crested Caracara is one of the three species of caracaras found in Costa Rica. It is a member of the hawk family and is the national bird of Mexico. This shrewd bird has moved southwards and is often seen on roads, hunting for roadkills. They can also pursue vultures or pelicans in the air and annoy them until they reluctantly release their prey. In contrast to the falcons in from the same family, the caracara is not a speedy aerial hunter, but is rather lethargic and is generally seen procuring his food by scavenging.
The Yellow-headed Caracara is 41–46 cm centimeters in length and weighs 325 g on average. Like many other birds of prey, the female is larger than the male, weighing 310–360 g against the male’s 280–330 g, other than the difference in size, there is no major sexual dimorphism in this species. It is broad-winged and posseses a long tapering tail, making it look similar to a small Buteo. The adult has a shiny head, with a distinct dark streak behind the eye, and off white underparts. The upper plumage is brown with unmistakable pale patches on the flight feathers of the wings, and the tail is colored cream and brown. The head and underparts of immature birds have thick brown mottling.
The Crested Caracara generally sports broad wings and is white in color with long off white tails and a broad terminal band and black back. With the help of the slender long yellow legs it can run and walk on the ground with the required dexterity. The flight of this bird is usually a cross-shaped one. The body, wings, crown and crest are all present in the adults and though their color varies it is normally black. The breast, rump and neck are beige colored and the breast is covered with a blackish color. Caracaras sport a thick and hookded grey color bill. Depending on the age of the bird the color of facial skin and cere varies from yellow to flaming red.
The male and female caracaras are similar in contour and shade, but there are some minute differences with the juvenile birds. They are generally brown in color, sport a beige colored throat and neck. The breast is pale with characteristic brown streaks and legs grayish in color. The facial skin and cere are greyish or at times it may also be pale pinkish-purple. The caracara is also spottier than other birds from the same family. The scapulars and lower back of the crested caracara is black throughout. The voice of these species is normally heard as a gentle rattle.
The lifespan of Crested Caracara is generally nine years in the wild and about a decade and a half years in captivity. These birds generally inhabit the middle elevation on tree tops and typically in the lowlands. They are also commonly spotted on scattered trees, small woods and shelter belts.
The Yellow-headed Caracara is an omnivorous creature, and will eat anything from reptiles to amphibians and other small animals as well as the carrion. Birds are rarely if ever taken, and this species will not give out any warning calls from mixed-species feeding flocks that come in its way even in open cerrado habitat. The Carara will also pick ticks from cattle, and is locally called the”tickbird”. It has been observed also to forage for tiny invertebrates in the fur of brown-throated three-toed sloths. In addition, the younger birds have a penchant for certain fruits, such as those of the Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and Pequi (Caryocar brasiliense). The bird lays about five to seven brown-marked beige colored eggs in a stick nest on tree tops.
The Caracaras are omnivorous birds that feed mainly on the carrion. It usually attacks young, helpless, injured and small creatures for its live prey. They feed on small mammals, fish, crabs, insects and reptiles like small freshwater turtles and reptiles. They can also consume the small larvae of these insects, juvenile birds and aquatic animals. The group of Crested Caracara lives on foods of branches and cow dung. It is also notorious for its wily habits of stealing from other birds like pelicans, spoonbills, vultures and buteos for its food. This bird usually flies and stays stoops low to even when they are flying, so as it to make it easy for them to steal food from, other available birds. The Crested Caracara also chases the automobiles to lay their hands on the food that falls from them. They are also known to collect food that drops from passing trains and are constantly in pursuit of any road kills they can spot.
The Caracaras can usually be spotted solitary or in pairs of about 3 to 5. Some caracaras also live in the roosts and visitors can at times spot about 5-6 dozen of caracaras at once. The nesting and breeding season of the Crested Caracara goes on from December to May, which is much earlier than other tropical aerials. They generally build their nests on the large trees like cacti, mesquites and palms or also on the ground. The nests are generally made from grasses and hay. Both the male and female caracaras contribute efforts for bringing materials to build the nest and also in the creature of the nest. The size of the nest is about 60 to 100 centimeters wide and depth approximately 15 to 40 centimeters.
The female Crested Caracara generally lays 2 to 3 eggs and hardly ever goes beyond 1 to 4 eggs with black blotches in the color of pinkish-brown. The incubation period lasts for about 28 to 33 days and the incubation is again shared by both the sexes. Then young caracaras leave their nest after 7 to 8 weeks of hatching. Both male and female species feed the birds for a couple of months and they remain close knit to their parents for about 10 months. The Crested Caracara pairs generally producer only one brood per year.
Where To Spot Them
The Yellow-headed Caracara pairs are frequently seen along the rooftops of Anamaya or the yoga deck. Visiting yogis often wake up to the pleasant sounds of the Caracara or hear them while practicing on the yoga deck, though the sounds are extremely audible and can be heard by keen ears only as a rattle. Our Guests can spot these birds in the vicinity of the resort and all around Montezuma by taking a bird watching trip led by knowledgeable and experienced guides.
Owing to the resourceful and predictable living of these species along beach sides and dry dense forests, you can find them abundantly within the fields and farmlands of Costa Rica. There are many national parks in Costa Rica that allow visitors to view these birds. Since the appearance of the Crested Caracara is considered to be one of the most attractive sights, avid bird watchers travel all the way to prefer to Florida, Mexico and Costa Rica only to watch this bird in action. Visitors are also advised to be cautious since these are known to be aggressive, attacking birds.
In Costa Rica, visitors can view these winged attractions at Manuel Antonio National Park in the northwest of Costa Rica, Guanacaste National Park which connects Cacao and Orosi volcanoes to the Santa Rosa National Park, the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge and the famous Corcovado National Park. Due to their adaptable habitation, these aerials can be easily seen around the beach sides and parks of Costa Rica. These birds can also be spotted of the rooftops of crowded suburban neighborhoods.
More on the Caracara of Costa Rica
Caracara Costa Rica – Crested Caracara Article on Costaricajourneys.com
Birdwatching – Anamaya’s article on birds of our area
Birdwatching Costa Rica – Costa Rica birdwatching
Montezuma Birdwatching – Montezumabeach.com article on birding