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Desert Diary



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For centuries, falcons have been considered noble birds. The swift flight and plummeting, deadly dive upon desperately fleeing prey have given almost mythical power to these birds in the minds of men, and falconers often have held places of honor for their command over these noble animals. It thus comes as somewhat of a shock to find a falcon that gets much of its sustenance from carrion and is not above bullying other birds from their rightful spoils. Indeed, most people wouldn't recognize the Caracara as a falcon.

Now lest you think I'm anti-Caracara, let me assure you otherwise. After all, it is the national bird of Mexico and, although we may think the eating of carrion somehow disgraceful, Caracaras above all are versatile, capturing and feeding on a greater variety of foodstuffs than any of the other falcons. Despite versatility, however, they barely hang on in the southern United States, though still more common to the south. Now rarely seen in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, fossil remains outnumber those of most raptors—another compatriot now almost gone. pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

drawing of caracara

Drawing of a Caracara. Image from a poster by Bob Hines, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.