Crested Caracara — Takeoff Sequence

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The Crested Caracara is unique in its appearance, its lifestyle, and in the fact that southern Arizona, along with small parts of Texas and Florida, comprise its very limited range within the United States. It is the northernmost representative of a family of bird species that show up all over South America, Central America, Mexico, and a few islands in the South Atlantic.

I admit it, I’m captivated by this species and I photograph it every chance I get. Finding and photographing one is made all the more exciting by the fact that they aren’t all that common, even in our desert. I probably get a chance to photograph a Crested Caracara no more than once out of every 10 photo trips that I make.

For all of these reasons I was very excited to capture a sequence of images recently of a Crested Caracara as it launched from an earthen embankment at the edge of an irrigation canal. The first image shows the bird a moment before it took off. It has the plumage of an adult bird: very dark, almost black feathers on its outer wings and back and a black cap or crest on its head; a white neck that is speckled with black at its base; and white at the base of its tail. Also characteristic are the Caracara’s heavy, chisel-shaped beak, and the bare orange flesh on its face and legs.

In the second image the Caracara is just beginning to take off. It has taken a short hop to the edge of the canal, simultaneously raising its wings, stretching out its neck, and leaning forward.

Just a fraction of a second later, the Caracara is off the ground with its wings fully raised. The bird’s white underwings are now plainly visible. Caracaras are easy to identify in flight due to the withe areas on their necks, underwings, and beneath their tails. No other bird in southern Arizona resembles a Caracara when in flight.

Now fully committed to flight, the Crested Caracara gains momentum with a powerful downward thrust of its wings.

Crested Caracaras do much of their foraging on the ground, walking or even running with the aid of their very long legs. But they are also powerful fliers, capable of soaring to considerable height and flying long distances. These birds, especially the younger ones, may live as nomads for at least part of the year, patrolling territories that cover hundreds of square miles.

Finally, and only a fraction of a second after launching, the Crested Caracara has settled into a flight pattern. Note that it flies with its wings at a 90-degree angle to its body. Caracaras are members of the falcon family, related to Peregrine and Prairie Falcons, but their flight style is quite different from that of other falcons. Most falcons have wings that angle backwards from their shoulders. Not so, with Caracaras, those right angle wings are distinctive.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISOs 2000 or 2500, f5.6 @ 1/4000, +2/3 stop exposure compensation.

One Reply to “Crested Caracara — Takeoff Sequence”

  1. picpholio says:

    I did not know about the wings, interesting… thanks for the info.
    Great shots of the take off.

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