Feb 29 2008
In Central Florida there’s a member of the falcon family who looks and acts unlike any other North American falcon - and it has a very cool name: the crested caracara.
I had almost given up seeing one this year but on the last day of my trip Chuck and Joan Tague took me to Viera Wetlands, a water treatment plant west of Melbourne.
In warm climates it’s become common to use man-made wetlands to treat sewage. The artificial wetlands attract all kinds of birds and that attracts birders. The birds are so easy to see, it knocks your eyes out.
That’s what happened at Viera. The three of us were gazing intently into some reeds, watching a least bittern, when Chuck turned around. Standing on the road behind us was an immature crested caracara looking at us if to say, “Whatcha doing?”
Crested carcaras are classed in the falcon family but are in a separate subfamily called Polyborinae. Unlike “true falcons” caracaras stand on the ground a lot, they don’t have pointy wings, they have extensive skin on their faces, and they are scavengers with eating habits more like vultures than peregrines. In fact they watch for vultures and follow them to feed on carrion.
Our caracara watched us at close range for a while – yet another way in which he wasn’t like the other falcons – then he flew away and I lost track of him. Best Bird of the trip!
I can’t say enough about the birding at sewage treatment wetlands. If you get the chance to visit Central Florida, don’t miss Viera. Two of my other favorite places are Wakodahatchee Wetlands (Delray Beach, Florida) and Henderson Bird Preserve (Henderson, Nevada).