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As I stated a couple of days ago, I’ve had the exciting opportunity these last few weeks to get a fairly close look at Crested Caracaras’ family life, something that I had thought that I never would observe. I’ll be featuring images of what I saw today and a couple of additional times in days to come.
The three youngsters still were covered with brown chick down and hadn’t begun to grow their fledgling plumage when we first began observing the nest. They had an almost comedic gawky appearance, with their heads too large for their bodies. Their legs appeared to be absurdly long.
By all accounts Crested Caracaras are devoted parents. Young caracaras are nomadic and may range over a territory of hundreds of square miles. Adults mate for life and, apparently, become homebodies of a sort, establishing territories that they guard against interloping caracaras. The pair relationship can last a long time. Caracaras are long-lived birds with some individuals apparently living up to 30 years. In southern Arizona the pair builds its nest in the arms of a Saguaro Cactus. The nest is built out of small twigs and sticks. The adult pair will often re-use their nest from year to year, enlarging it each breeding season. Some older caracara nests can be enormous piles of sticks, several feet in height.
Typically, Crested Caracaras produce one or two offspring per year. Rarely, they will produce three. This nest has three young, so that makes it unusual (it’s also very unusual for Crested Caracaras to nest in plain view of a public road).
I attempted to learn whether eggs are incubated by one or both parents. I found one source that says that the parents share incubation duties. I’m not 100 percent convinced of that, given that there is a real paucity of research about these birds’ breeding behavior. At any rate, the parents are devoted to their young. We discovered that the parents didn’t spend a lot of time at the nest. One of the parents (the female?) preferred to roost on another Saguaro at least 200 meters from the nest cactus. This bird had a clear line of sight to the nest cactus and could fly to it within seconds. The other parent (the male?) was often absent, apparently out foraging.
From time to time, one of the adults visited the nest, sometimes bringing food, other times seemingly just checking on the kids. These visits were brief.
My guess is that adult caracaras don’t spend long periods of time at the nest after their chicks hatch because they don’t want to attract the attention of predators, such as bobcats, Great Horned Owls, and Common Ravens. The young in the nest were remarkably well-behaved, sitting quietly as they waited for a parental visit.
In my next post about these birds I’ll feature some images of one of the parents delivering food to the youngsters.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 200, f5.6 @ 1/2000.