South America comes to Suffolk...

Senior Falconer Matt Lott with one of our new charges...

We'd like to tell you about two new birds who have joined us at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary - a pair of Yellow Headed Caracaras. The distinctive character, gait, feeding habits & colouring of these intelligent avians will add an interesting dimension for those that visit the Sanctuary to learn all about birds of prey, their lifestyles & conservation.

Caracaras belong to the family of falcons known as
Falcondae. They are native to the South American continent, with the Yellow Headed variety living on the savannah, in swamps & around forest edges from Nicaragua to northern Argentina, whilst other of the genus live high in the Andean mountains. They are also now found on the islands of Trinidad & Tobago.

Though of the falcon family, Caracaras do not resemble ‘familiar’ falcons at all. They have much longer legs and necks, with rounded wings and, unlike other falcons, are not fast-flying aerial hunters but rather sluggish on the wing. This is no doubt connected to the biggest difference between them and their more dextrous relatives, in that they feed predominantly by scavenging for carrion.

In common with other carrion feeders - vultures, for instance - Caracaras have evolved with bare heads and pointed beaks, and feet designed to walk along the ground rather than grasp & hold prey. The Yellow Headed Caracara eats anything from decaying crocodiles and other amphibians through to snails and the smallest of insects. As a species, it often scours the territory in large groups which natively fly together from one feeding ground to the other. However, all is not sweetness and light amongst these scavenging groups, for once the birds have discovered a good feeding site such as the carcass of a cow, they will become dominant and aggressive towards each other, and have even been known to force the food from another bird's gullet.

Caracaras are also known as the Tick Bird, as they enjoy resting on the backs of grazing cattle and removing ticks and parasites from the backs of the bovines, even on some occasions feeding on open wounds by pulling at the flesh.

Unlike true falcons, the Caracara builds its own nest out of twigs and vegetation rather than inhabiting a ‘scrape’ on the side of a mountain or rocky outcrop. The nests are usually at the topmost part of a high tree, with a particular favorite being the top of Palm trees. Two eggs are usually laid each year and are incubated for approx. 4 weeks. The young are ready to fledge once they are about 40 days old. This tends to be at the beginning of the rainy season when food is plenty and readily available.

The Caracara is the national emblem of Mexico and is a bird which has adapted readily to urban areas which, after the American Black Vulture,is the most easily seen bird of prey in Latin American cities.

Our plan is to have our new additions take part in our flying demonstrations, to compare their natural intelligence and carrion tendencies with the lifestyles of other birds at the centre - an interesting and often amusing site. Why not pop in and meet them next time you are passing?