AWENDAW — The bird in the pine tree just didn’t look like a red-tailed hawk. It didn’t look like any native raptor. But it sure made itself at home.
Staff and visitors were wowed. The once-a-week “vulture restaurant” feeding exhibit can draw any number of raptors — hawks, eagles and the like. But the crested caracara is normally found in places like Mexico. It isn’t been seen in the United States much north of the Everglades.
“Never in a million years did I think a caracara was going to show up, in basically our backyard,” said Audrey Poplin, husbandry coordinator.
The caracara is a tropical falcon with a black crest like a long thin beret, a spotted white chest, black wings with white tips like a black vulture, and a yellow or orange-splashed beak like a toucan. It is a spectacular bird, stunning to spot on a tree limb more than 500 miles out of its range.
“It was pretty shocking,” Poplin said.
The center has a caracara in residence. The a bird, which was hit by a car, is missing part of a wing. The staff’s first thought was it had gotten loose. But a quick look at the two good wings said no. This guy just came for the buffet.
EBird reported a crested caracara sighting last year in Virginia, and Jim Elliott, center director, said he heard there was a more recent sighting in North Carolina. If they were the same bird, this might have been it — working its way back home.
“For whatever reason, he decided to explore,” Elliott said. “He got very far out of his range.”
Pretty adventurous, even for an opportunistic scavenger like a caracara. But talons or not, a tropical falcon knows its limits. When two bald eagles dove in for the Jan. 17 feeding, the other diners flushed. The caracara wisely stayed up in the tree.
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