A Brave and Lovely Falcon, the Crested"Caracara," (Faceface) is the Mexican National Bird.
Eagle Looks: Vulture HabitsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Chosen for its Guts and Looks
No, Our National Bird is Not the Fly!
Someone once asked me if the national bird of Australia was the fly. It isn’t, of course, although people might be forgiven for suggesting it would make the ideal choice as the pesky insects are everywhere.
National birds had never really interested me - what is ours in the UK, the Golden Eagle?
But as I spent so much time in Mexico I was surprised to hear one day that the Caracara was the chosen one. Where I lived in South Baja for many years, caracaras (it means “face-face“) were about as common as magpies in Britain. They could mainly be seen at the side of the road scavenging road-kill or even catching small snakes attracted to the warmth of the hard-top in the cold of the morning and evening.
When I looked into these fascinating birds I found there were more than ten sub-species, found all over Central and South America, as well in the extreme south of the US border states.
But the fellow Mexicans have adopted as their own is the Crested Caracara, found all along the mainland eastern coast but especially in Southern Baja where I lived for 10 years.
The caracara is a member of the Falconidae, just to get the Etruscan out of the way…Latin you say? Why don’t you write the durn hub! Most caracaras are scavengers by nature and only the Red Throated Caracara is a true raptor. Mexican birds often feed alongside buzzards and vultures which requires no little salt. A cacacara weighs about 3 pounds - big for a falcon, but nothing against a 20-pound vulture. But caracaras are known and admired for their bravery; one of the reason the machos picked him to adorn the flag, I suppose.
Their diet consists of small reptiles: lizards and snakes, as well as scorpions and spiders and insects, as well as road kill, a taste they have developed over the last half century as traffic increases in Baja and mainland Mexico. The birds look much better in flight, there is nothing vulture-like about the look of them anyway, a mini-eagle would be more descriptive. They are a handsome creature indeed. The adult Mexican caracara is about 22 inches in length, has a four-foot wing span, is black all over in colour with a black crested cap on the head, a red face and white patches near the wing tips.
The caracara fledglings have often been captured and reared in captivity much like our falcons, except they don’t have a need to fly off and knock off a wood pigeon. Caracaras have a distinctive hoarse cackle, which they employ to squawk, “Pigeon? Stuff your bloomin pigeon, We’ll have a nice bit o’ week-old road kill, thanks…and don’t invite those bloody buzzards!”
Caracas themselves were shot and eaten by the Indians in Baja in times past. They must have been easy prey if they behaved as they do today. They don’t seem particularly frightened of people or their cars and are a welcome sight on the roads near La Paz and other Baja towns. In fact, they play a large part in Mexican folklore where they are usually depicted as being fearless.
Caracaras made rudimentary nests as high as they can on trees and poles. Nesting platforms are in short supply in the desert regions. The nests are made of sticks and they will often repair and old nest that may have belonged to them or another caracara pair. the year before.