Crested Caracara at Dinner Island Ranch WMA
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY – DINNER ISLAND RANCH WMA
This photograph is of a pair of Crested Caracara’s taken at the Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area off of County Road 833 in Hendry County, Florida. The Crested Caracara were captured using a Nikon D90 attached to a Tamron 28-300mm zoom lens. Caracara is a genus of birds of prey in the family Falconidae found throughout a large part of the Americas. They are part of a group collectively referred to as caracaras. The modern species in the genus Caracara were previously considered conspecific (as “Crested Caracara”, a name still widely used for the Northern Caracara) and for long placed in the genus Polyborus.
The Crested Caracara is a large raptor with a crest, naked face, heavy bill, elongated neck, and long legs. Both sexes look alike. The tail is banded with white and black and has a broad dark terminal band. The legs and feet are deep yellow. The Crested Caracara occurs throughout most of South America. The northern limit of its distribution is the southern USA, including Florida. The current breeding range of the Crested Caracara in Florida is the south-central prairie region. The Crested Caracara is a bird of open habitats and its distribution corresponds closely to the original location of the major prairie systems in the state, which have largely been converted to pasture. Today, the majority (82%) of breeding Crested Caracara’s are found on large private cattle ranches with improved pastures.
Crested Caracara’s are strong fliers and appear eagle-like in flight, however they do not soar. They are often seen perched on fence posts, utility poles, and snags that provide good view of the surrounding area. When driving the Florida Turnpike you may see them feeding on a carcass beside the road. They forage extensively on the ground, scratching and digging, and will flip over “cow patties” in search of insects. The diet of these birds includes carrion as well as wide variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey. Unlike other raptors they carry food items in beaks rather than in talons while in flight.