Not the mama, but close enough
Peace River Wildlife Center recently admitted an unusual patient. Unusual for us, anyway. Although southwest Florida is teeming with an abundance of wildlife, we often see the same few species over and over. This past week was a little different. Of course getting a single member of a species is always exciting, but it can have its disadvantages as well. Being raised alone, a fledgling can lack the skills it needs to lead a productive life after release. Luckily for us, we happened to have an expert “on staff.”
Our new patient is a fledgling crested caracara. Found primarily in Cuba, northern South America, Central America and Mexico, caracaras are sometimes seen in southeast Texas and southern Arizona. There is a relict population in Florida—an isolated pocket of the species that is presumed to be from a time when savannas existed between Florida and Texas, some 12,000 years ago. We do not often see them along the coast, but they are fairly common just east of Charlotte County.
Ursula, our resident crested caracara, came from Arcadia with a badly broken wing that could not be saved. She was a juvenile when she got here about a year ago and settled into her life as a permanent resident at PRWC after having part of her wing amputated. She has now been given an even bigger job. She has been taken off display and placed in a habitat with the fledgling caracara that was apparently orphaned.
The baby is eating well on his own, but needs to be raised with conspecifics (members of his own species) so that when the time comes for him to be released he will recognize his own species and know how to interact with them. The young remain with their parents for several months after fledging in the wild. Caracaras often congregate in groups and roost communally. So although Ursula isn’t taking an active role in raising this baby, she is proving to be a good role model for him. They both scream like tearing sheet metal when anyone walks into the cage to clean.
The crested caracara is a falcon, but not a fast-flying aerial hunter. It is one of the few raptors that hunt on foot, sometimes turning over branches and cow dung to reach food. It often feeds beside vultures on carrion. It is the only falcon to collect materials to build a nest. Thought to be the “Sacred Eagle” depicted in pre-Columbian historical documents, this little fledgling has some big shoes to fill once he gets out there on his own. And luckily for him, his Auntie Ursula is there to help him navigate the first few bumps in the road.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM