Crested caracara winters in Cape Breton, far from its Mexican home

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
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At a time of year when most Cape Bretoners are dreaming of tropical beaches and hot weather, one visitor to this island is probably wondering more than most who turned the heat off.

For the past 10 days, a crested caracara has been spotted in the Frenchvale and Balls Creek area — very far north of its usual home in Mexico and the southern U.S. Also called a Mexican eagle, the caracara is essentially a tropical falcon version of a vulture. But instead of its usual diet of lizards, snakes and carrion, this bird has been joining local seagulls and crows at neighbourhood bird feeders.

Kris Tynski first saw the bird on Jan. 18 and managed to snap photos the next morning.

"My wife and I were headed to Louisbourg to see if we could find a snowy owl — there's been a lot of sightings up the coast there — and I said 'Let's go for a drive and see if we can see one and take the camera,'" said Tynski.

"I see him up in the tree — if it was a hawk I would have stopped anyway to take a picture — that's what it looked like at first, was a hawk. But it was a little too big to be a hawk and too small to be an eagle. Once I got close, I took some pictures and then I took some more pictures and then when I looked at it through the viewfinder, I kind of thought it might be a caracara  … so we Googled it on the phone and found out that's exactly what it was."

David McCorquodale, dean of science at Cape Breton University, also saw the crested caracara on the weekend but it's not his first time viewing the bird. He's seen caracaras in their natural habitat of Texas and says the bird rarely goes farther north than Arizona. A caracara was spotted at Lawrencetown Beach last spring and then again near Port Hawkesbury just before Christmas. McCorquodale said it's probably the same bird.

"My information is that the bird has been in Balls Creek since early in January, coming for scraps fed to gulls and crows in a yard," said McCorquodale. "Based on it still being alive, yes they can survive (the cold). Usually they (all birds) can handle the cold temperatures as long as they have enough food. Since they are scavengers, I would expect they find carrion and scraps from garbage and even bait from fishers."

McCorquodale said it's anyone's guess how the caracara got here.

"It may have got completely off course in the spring. I suspect it's the same bird wandering around since then. Normally they don't move great distances — they're pretty sedentary. If it was a young bird who got disoriented completely, once it's in a place, it doesn't go very far."

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