Foam Lake Birding No. 138


No. 138

            This is our sixth time in southern Texas and we have come to look forward to seeing the common birds down here much as we like to see our regular visitors when we return home.  The only difference is in the species.  Rather than the Chickadees, Robins, House Wrens, Ruby Throated Hummingbirds back home, down here we have the likes of Chachalacas, Kiskadees, Altimira Orioles and Buff Bellied Hummingbirds just to name a few.  What is unique is that the birds just listed are Mexican crossovers that barely make it into the USA but, nevertheless, are common down here.  Some like the Great Tailed Grackle, Black Crested Titmouse and the Mockingbird are more widespread in the southern part of the US but are not found in the Canadian Prairies.  Others like the Orange Crowned Warbler are winter visitors that move north for the summer to nest in the Boreal Forest.  Finally, there is the ever present House Sparrow which always reminds us of home. 

            In this article I am covering a bird that is not found in our yard here in Texas but is quite common in rural areas.  The Crested Caracara, a relative of the falcons, is primarily a carrion feeder that will occasionally take grasshoppers and small rodents.  Although a member of the hawk family its slow flight, weak legs and feet make it incapable of taking larger prey.  For a falcon the Crested Caracara is rather large approaching a raven in size.  Its white neck and tail cause it to be occasionally mistaken for a Bald Eagle, but the caracara’s black crown and crest easily separate the two.  In flight it appears all black with white head, tail and wing tips making identification easy.  To some early devout Christians the bird was very special because it reminded them of a dark cross with white tips on all four points.  The yellow beak is massive and can be seen with the naked eye whether the bird is perched or in flight.  Males and females are the same.  Caracaras are strictly new world birds with only the Crested Caracara found north of Mexico. 

          When Mexico became independent the authorities of the new nation decided to adopt a national bird emblem.  According to various sources, it was decided to adopt the same bird that was the emblem of the Aztec Empire but nobody was sure what it was.  Eventually, it was determined that the bird emblem of the Aztecs was the Golden Eagle so this particular raptor was adopted as the state bird of Mexico in much the same way as the Bald Eagle of the US was chosen.  Since then it has been determined that the bird emblem of the Aztecs was actually the Crested Caracara and not the Golden Eagle as first thought.  This has led to some confusion and some debate as well.  Many Mexicans would like to see the Crested Caracara made the state bird rather than the Golden Eagle.   Locally, the caracara is often referred to as the “Mexican Eagle” and is often thought to be the state bird of Mexico. 

            This week’s photo was taken off a moving jitney when we were on tour at the famous King Ranch in southern Texas.  There were actually a pair of caracaras collecting nesting material but I managed to get a picture of only one of them.