A Patient Poser

Perched alongside a Brazoria County road, this Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus) had chosen to survey its territory from the tallest tree in the neighborhood: typical behavior from a bird that’s equally willing to walk a country mile in search of grasshoppers or lizards. A large bird, caracaras in the open are hard to miss, so I stopped for a closer look.

Despite being classified as a falcon, caracaras often are mistaken for eagles; in Texas, it’s not uncommon to hear them called ‘Mexican eagles.’ That said, their flight differs from that of an eagle. Rather than soaring high in the sky, caracaras tend to fly low across the land, wings flat and nearly motionless as they search for prey.

One of their most delightful characteristics is their occasional willingness to tolerate human presence. After a few quick photos taken from inside the car, I decided I had nothing to lose and stepped out onto the road. The bird, seemingly impervious to my movements, never stirred. Finally, I called out to him. In response, he stopped staring into space and turned to look at me while the wind ruffled his head feathers.

On a whim, I continued the conversation. “You know you’re handsome, so how about a better view of that shiny blue beak?” Why he raised his head I can’t say, but it’s fun to imagine that he knew he was being admired, and wanted to show off one of his most unique features.


Comments always are welcome.

76 thoughts on “A Patient Poser

    1. While they resemble eagles, they often hang out with vultures. Like vultures, they’ll eat carrion as well as live prey: snakes, insects, fish, birds, and small mammals. That’s one reason for their featherless face; like the vultures’, it helps to keep them clean while they’re digging around in roadkill. As my grandmother would say, they do ‘clean up good.’

    1. Their range in the U.S. is rather limited; you can see it on this map. There are reports that their range is expanding somewhat, especially farther north in Texas and into Louisiana, but they’re certainly not a northern — or even midwestern — bird. I’m glad they’re here; they’re one of my favorites.

    1. Rationality suggests the bird sensed something above him in the air — another bird, probably — but his willingness to strike the last pose and hold it amused me no end. I’m glad I caught it. He looks like an aristocrat raising his blue nose into the air.

  1. Great pictures! We’ve noticed many out and about this past month. Usually, there are more, but Katy is unfortunately sprawling westward and much of the huge areas of farmland are now being developed. I’m waiting to see some geese. I know last year they ran about 2 weeks later than in years past. Maybe this week.

    1. I’ve been listening for the geese, too. With the osprey and sandhill cranes here now, and the coots beginning to collect, it’s time for them. I’ve heard hunters say that changes in the availability of food and water seem to have shifted many of the birds this year, so it may be that our usual complement of geese have gone elsewhere. Time will tell!

      I’ve been surprised by the number of caracaras I’ve seen this fall. I notice them more at the refuges — probably because I’m driving more slowly — but I’ll spot them in trees along the highways, too. I’m glad you get to see them; they certainly are attractive birds.

  2. Excellent shots, Linda. I once read a book about these intelligent and opportunistic birds. The head thrown back is a territorial display, often all the way back and accompanied by a cackling cry.

    1. I’ve seen that head-throwing behavior, but this seemed to differ. There wasn’t any call associated with it, and he held the pose for quite some time: long enough for me to take several photos. My suspicion is that he sensed or saw another bird in the sky: one that my poor human eyesight wasn’t able to spot.

    1. It may be fanciful, but it can be tempting to think that these creatures know exactly how handsome (beautiful, intriguing, amusing) we find them. I’ll say this. If one wants to show off, I’ll be more than happy to hang around and watch.

    1. I just mentioned to Eliza that I don’t think this was a typical territorial display. I’ve seen those, and this was quite different. No cry or head-tossing was associated with it. The bird simply raised its head, holding the position long enough for me to take several photos. My suspicion is that it sensed another bird above it, and was paying attention to that. I looked for another bird myself, but couldn’t find one; of course, my vision isn’t as sharp as the bird’s.

  3. I love that you conversed with him and that he posed so beautifully! What a handsome fellow. (I do like his windy “do” — a bit like the Mergansers in that moment!) What a lovely face.

    1. Remember the old Smothers’ Brothers bit called “I talk to the trees”? I talk to plenty of critters — even lady bugs and caterpillars. Of course, I’ve been know to talk to flowers, too. I suppose it’s my particular craziness, but it’s harmless.

      I happened to find my photo of the Merganser pair I discovered in one of our marinas, and you’re right: there is a resemblance between this one’s windblown look and the Merganser’s ‘style.’

  4. I’ve never noted the pale blue-tipped bill before, thanks for pointing that out! I saw a pair at San Bernard NWR in the spring, and later spotted one carrying nesting material. I look forward to seeing them there again.

    1. I suspect you’ll find them. I read on All About Birds that they often return to nesting sites, or even specific trees. When I last visited San Bernard, there was one in a tree halfway between the entrance and the first parking area for Bobcat Woods. I got a photo, but he was in the midst of so many twigs I decided not to pair the photo with these.

    1. They’re such striking birds. Their size and their preference for high perches certainly makes them easier to find than the little-bitty birds that I usually hear, but can’t find in the bushes and trees. And of course once you’ve seen a Caracara, it’s not hard to identify the next one!

    1. The Mexican coat of arms shows an eagle dispatching a snake atop a cactus; there’s been discussion through the years about the identity of the bird. Some say it was a Golden Eagle, while other say it was a Caracara. The symbolism goes back to Aztec times; here’s a sculpture showing the motif at the Presidio in Goliad, Texas.

    1. Ducks seem especially responsive, but they’re not the only ones. I can whistle up my bluejays, now. When I go out in the morning to fill the feeders, there may not be a bird in sight, but if I give ‘the call,’ they come flying in from wherever they’ve been hanging out. Of course, the semi-domesticated ones are the most fun. For a few years, I knew a Cockatiel that would hop up on a table (or counter, or shower rod), spread its wings, and scream, “I’m an eagle!” I don’t know who taught him that, but it was hilarious.

  5. The best kinds of posers are the patient ones! It’s a gorgeous bird, the Cara Cara. I see them here in north-central Austin from time-t0-time, though they’re certainly more common further south. Lovely capture, Linda.

    1. They do seem to be moving farther north; I’m glad that you get to see them from time to time. The iNaturalist map is interesting. There are quite a few sightings in north Texas, but they’ve not done much crossing of the Red River into Oklahoma yet.

    1. I was looking at the mapped sightings of Caracaras on iNaturalist, and saw that huge cluster in south Florida. Until yesterday, I’d somehow missed the description of them as a ‘tropical falcon.’ That certainly suits them, given their colorful appearance. I seem to see them more often in fall and winter, but that’s probably a result of fewer leaves on the trees.

    1. I’ve only seen them at the refuges, or in open fields. They show up from time to time after plowing; I’m sure they’re chasing grasshoppers and such, just like other birds will behind lawn mowers. A few times, I’ve seen them perched on fence posts along a highway, but they’re always in a relatively open space.

  6. Oh, these brought a very big smile to my face. I love your take on why it looked up, sounds like a very good reason to me. Such a gorgeous species, and a beautiful moment for you. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Having a reasonable explanation for a creature’s behavior doesn’t make the experience of witnessing it any less magical. Of course, the behavior often serves a good purpose. Hanging around in the sunshine on top of a tree would be great, but it does make a bird a bit of a target. Caution advised!

  7. That lovely bird is described as a ‘he’ and with that pose it looks a typical male. I venture the female of that species is in the kitchen of give and take, looking after her brood while he is the faithful provider, hopefully.

    1. Caracaras do form strong pair bonds, and stay together from year to year. They build their nests together, and both parents bring food to their nestlings. Whether this is a male is an open question; several articles I read said that genetic testing is the only reliable method for distinguishing male from female. That said, it’s rather nice that both male and female are equally attractive.

  8. That blue beak is striking — made me think of steel toed workboots, oddly enough. Rather handsome fellow with his black “hair” and red face. I like the way his neck feathers speckle at the point of transition.

    1. Sometimes their beaks are a little dull, but this one certainly had that metallic shine. The workboots comparison is oddly apt, since that beak has to do quite a bit of work when the bird’s dining on carrion. I read that their face color can change from a lighter orange to deep red, depending on their mood. Whether that’s part of their ‘signaling’ to one another, I can’t say.

  9. A handsome bird, for a vulture wanna-be. Naturally, he would pose for you.
    Or maybe he thought you were sticking your nose up too. (Not realizing it was a camera lens…)

    1. That’s quite an image, all on its own. If I were a cartoonist (which I’m not), it would be fun to draw a ‘nosey’ photographer with a lens as a nose. As it is, some of us manage to disguise our natural nosiness.

    1. Just out of curiosity, was this sanctuary in Hout Bay the one you visited? Their website is beautifully done, and I did find some Caracara photos from the place on Flickr. It would be a great place to visit, although it’s just as much fun to find some of the birds they feature along our roads and in our bays.

    1. Isn’t it fun to imagine what’s going on in the brains of the critters that surround us? One thing is certain; he didn’t see me as a threat. I suppose when you’re perched well above ground level it’s easier to be confident — as long as someone bigger doesn’t swoop in from above.

  10. You know I never write about politics and don’t like to make fun of anyone, so please take this comment in the way it is intended: harmless fun. But seriously, when I saw that first photo of the Caracara, I thought of Donald Trump! (Don’t ask me why…maybe it’s just been a long day). Still, it gave me a giggle.

    1. I must say, that resemblance hadn’t occurred to me, but once you mentioned it, I saw it in the second photo especially. I think it’s those rumpled feathers atop the bird’s head; they remind me a bit of Mr. Trump’s hair. A couple of years ago, I included a photo of the Texas caterpillar known as an asp in a post. It’s the third photo down, and looking at it now, it still reminds me of his hair!

    1. They range inland, too. I’ve sometimes seen one sitting on a fencepost along Hwy 71. They hunt over agricultural fields as well as prairies and such, so I’d bet there are some in your area. They’ll feed with vultures on carrion, so when you see a group of vultures along the road, take a second look.

    1. I was surprised that he was so accomodating, but it was fun to spend a little time with him. I thought this one’s beak was especially pretty; it looked as though it could have been metallic.

  11. From here on in I dub thee “Caracara Whisperer.” What an obliging chap. In that last shot I think he may have been requesting the same neck scratch Bentley does while sitting on my lap.

    1. I really enjoy these birds. For one thing, they’re large enough to spot more easily than a warbler, and they tend to perch in open areas: treetops, fence posts, and so on. Beyond that, their face and beak colors are bright and easily seen. I’ve read descriptions of them as ‘tropical eagles.’ I’m sure the colors are part of the reason; the name certainly fits.

    1. Thank you, Kate. I’m glad for your visit, and I’m especially glad that you’ve found some things to enjoy here. A lesson I have to keep learning is that the wonders of the world — like this fabulous bird — aren’t always ‘out there.’ Sometimes, they’re closer to home than we imagine, just waiting to be discovered.

    1. What amazes me even more is that they often seem to be out for a stroll: just walking down a road. They’ll sometimes hunt their prey by walking, too. I’ve watched them hunting grasshoppers at the edge of the road; I suppose they could take other small prey that way, too.

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