Said to be named for the sound of their call, Crested Caracaras (Caracara plancus) are a common sight along the upper Texas coast: perching in tall, isolated trees, soaring flat-winged and low across mud flats and fields, or chasing grasshoppers on the prairie. Easily mistaken for hawks and often termed ‘Mexican Eagles’ by locals, they’re actually classified with the falcons, despite displaying some distinctly non-falcon like traits.
One of those traits is an inclination to walk as well as to fly. I often see them on refuge roads; what made this sighting unusual was the presence of a pair. I stopped some distance away, certain that moving closer would cause them to fly, but when I stepped out of the car, they didn’t move.
With nothing to lose, I began walking toward the pair. As I did, they moved closer together; the one on the right sat down and the one on the left stood up, but they didn’t fly.
Remembering the classic rule for stalking — ‘Stop often ‘n’ set frequent’ — I moved up the road toward the birds, a few steps at a time. As I did, both stood or sat a number of times, until they joined one another at the edge of the road.
Studies have confirmed the difficulty of visually identifying Caracaras as male or female. Although some slight differences in external characteristics such as larger wing length and bill depth may indicate a female, the degree of variation and overlap make reliable gender identification in the field impossible.
That said, the behavior of this pair suggested that the standing bird was the male. Caracaras are solitary birds, joining only with their mate during the breeding season, so it seemed obvious that this was a bonded pair.
When the bird I assumed to be the male drifted to the other side of the road while his mate stayed seated on the warm gravel, I continued to walk toward them, remembering a piece of advice I once read: if your lens can’t get you close enough, keep walking. Eventually, the tolerant pair allowed me to approach closely enough for some nice portraits. (Click any photo for more detail, but especially the next two.)
Their tolerance came to an end when I returned to my car and continued my journey to the refuge exit. Willing to accept a woman on foot, they clearly saw a metal box on rubber tires as a threat, and chose to leave for a more congenial spot, where I presume they continued to enjoy the sunshine undisturbed.