“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world,
receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”
– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Galveston Bay Area, Texas
January, 2024

Below are additional photos not included in the previous post. (“Texas is for the Birds. Part 1”)

Got something stuck in your craw? Check out the Crested Caracara.

I first spotted the crested caracara perched in a tall tree surveying the forest and bayou. The large bird then quietly descended to the ground, walking around an open area as if casually searching for something it had misplaced. The crested caracara is an unusual raptor, its striking markings look like a composite of several different birds. Its large hooked beak, half red and half blue is complemented by its long orange legs. The black featered cap looks like an ill-fitting toupee drawn too low over the eyes.

Until I saw the photos on my computer, I had not noticed the odd lump of exposed skin protruding from the caracara’s chest. At first, I thought it might be an infection or a tumor. But with a little internet research, I discovered that this bulge is called its craw or crop. While other birds have crops, they are not usually as pronounced as the caracara’s. The crop is an extension of its esophagus, where food is stored at the beginning of digestion and can remain for up to 12 hours. When you see a parent bird regurgitating food for its young, it is coming from this crop. When the craw is empty, the bird is signaled to eat again.

This caracara had recently had a substantial meal of some sort. They will eat just about any small live animal as well as carrion, such as roadkill. Their diet can include reptiles, amphibians, insects, worms, crabs, baby birds, and a variety of small mammals. Caracaras are in the falcon family, but they neither look like nor behave like falcons. (So why are they considered falcons? I don’t know, probably genetics.) They are a branch of falcons that evolved to be slow flyers (instead of fast), bulky (instead of sleek) and to enjoy walking on the ground (instead of flying high.)

Their usual range is southeastern Texas, lower Florida and all points south. They are sometimes called the Mexican Eagle. But they do occasionally get around. Just this week a juvenile crested caracara was sighted in Mendocino County in northern California.

There are 10 species of caracaras in the New World. Darwin was intrigued by them when he encountered caracaras for the first time on his South American trip in the Beagle. A recent book explores just how intelligent and unusual caracaras are: A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey by Jonathan Meiburg.

List of birds identified in Texas, January 2024:
Great blue heron, little blue heron, black-crowned night heron, tricolor heron, snowy egret, great egret, cattle egret, roseate spoonbill, brown pelican, white pelican, white ibis, belted kingfisher, American robin, yellow-rumped warbler, white-winged dove, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, red-tailed hawk, white-tailed kite, red-shouldered hawk, osprey, black vulture, turkey vulture, neotropic cormorant, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, swamp sparrow, ruby-crowned kinglet, American crow, common raven, willet, sanderlings, Forster’s tern, various gulls, spotted sandpiper, pied-billed grebe, northern harrier, sandhill crane, killdeer, crested caracara, great-tailed grackle.

Please leave a comment so I know you were here!

Share this story with your online network!