Tuesday 26 May, 2020

CriTTers: Four things to know about the Yellow-headed Caracara

A member of the raptor family, the Yellow-headed Caracara is a beautiful bird which is also known for its piercing call in the wild.

Director and founder of the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation, Ricardo Meade, shows one such bird which was injured by poachers, causing it to lose one wing. The birds is now cared for as an ambassador at the Centre.


Here are four facts about the Yellow-headed Caracara:

1. They scavenge for food

Yellow-headed Caracaras are not as fast as other raptors in the wild and therefore often scavenge for food. According to a report by the University of the West Indies (UWI), they might be seen in pastures or on riverbanks, patrolling the area for carcasses. They may be found at the tops of trees in forests or savannas or even at roadsides. 

Yellow-headed Cacaras (Milvago chimachima) scavenges carrion and almost any edible plant or animal matter including insects, bird nestlings, snakes, lizards and mice. They also eat fruits and coconuts, as they are omnivores. 

2. They help rid cattle of ticks

These birds play a helpful role for cattle and are often seen sitting on the backs of cattle and even capybaras, looking for prey. They feed on the ticks and parasites of these animals when on their backs in a symbiotic relationship.

3. They take sand baths 

Water shortage? No problem. Yellow-headed Caracaras know how to escape pesky parasites by simply taking a sand-bath.  Adult Yellow-headed Caracaras teach the younger birds how to perform certain ways such as hunting and grooming, such as how to remove parasites.

The adult would move to a place where there is sand and use a vocalisation call making the juveniles come to that area. Then he takes sand bath, showing the younger ones how it's done. The younger birds then follow suit. This is grooming behaviour done to get rid of parasites.

4. They can carry out mob attacks

If threatened for food, Yellow-headed Caracaras can take the initiative and act as a group against another, known as mobbing. Studies show the birds may do this to protect their nests and chicks.

Yellow-headed Caracaras are protected in the wild, and are not to caught, kept or harmed.

For more information on how to support wildlife conservation and awareness, contact the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildlife.tt, or visit their website at www.wildliferescuett.org.

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