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Discovering the Caracara: The Enigmatic Inhabitant of Selva de Urundel Forests
Within the REDD+ conservation project “Selva de Urundel” is a mysterious forest inhabitant: the Crested Caracara (also known as Carancho). Using strategically placed camera traps inside the project located in the the Yungas Forest in Argentina, our experts have the opportunity to observe this fascinating animal up close.
In this article, we will delve into the world of the Caracara, exploring its unique characteristics and intriguing behaviors.
Description and Physical Features
The Crested Caracara, scientifically known as Caracara plancus, is a captivating medium-sized raptor with specific physical characteristics. It typically reaches an average height of around 50 centimeters and possesses an impressive wingspan ranging from 120 to 140 centimeters. One of its most distinguishing features is the prominent crest located on its head, giving rise to its common name, Crested Caracara.
The crest of the Crested Caracara is a flexible structure that can be raised or lowered, often indicating the bird’s emotional state or territorial displays. This remarkable ability to manipulate its crest adds to the bird’s overall captivating appearance and behavior.
In terms of plumage, the Crested Caracara exhibits a wide range of coloration. The upper parts of its body typically display a dark brown hue, while the underparts tend to be lighter, often ranging from a creamy off-white to pale beige. This color contrast contributes to the bird’s distinctive appearance, aiding in camouflage within its natural habitat.
The plumage of the Crested Caracara serves multiple purposes, including thermoregulation, protection from external elements, and facilitating visual communication among conspecifics. Its unique coloration and notable crest make this raptor a truly remarkable and recognizable species within its ecosystem.
This crest can be raised or lowered depending on the bird’s emotional state. The plumage varies from dark brown to off-white, with the underparts usually lighter than the upper parts.
Habitat and Distribution
The Crested Caracara demonstrates remarkable adaptability and is found in a variety of habitats, ranging from open plains to tropical forests. Its geographic distribution spans across numerous regions in Latin America, including Mexico, Central America, South America, and certain Caribbean islands. This ability to thrive in diverse environments contributes to its versatility and success as a bird species.
In particular, the Caracara plancus is also present in the Yungas forests of Argentina. These forests provide essential habitat for the Caracara plancus, offering nesting sites, hunting opportunities, and abundant food resources.
Within the Yungas forests, the Caracara plancus can be observed in both dense forest areas and more open areas adjacent to forest edges. Its adaptability to the varying habitat conditions within the Yungas allows it to exploit the available food sources in these different zones.
Opportunistic and Intelligent
The Caracara possesses a remarkable ability to adapt to diverse biomes and capitalize on available resources, showcasing its remarkable traits.
As an opportunistic predator, it displays a wide-ranging diet, including snakes, lizards, rodents, bird eggs, insects, and carrion. What sets it apart is its intelligent foraging behavior, employing tools like stones to break open large eggs or crack open turtle shells, demonstrating problem-solving skills and resourcefulness.
The Caracara, an Ecological Cleaner
Although its diet may seem unusual, the Caracara plays an important role in the Selva de Urundel ecosystem.
With its inclination to feed on carcasses of dead animals, it acts as an ecological cleaner, helping to maintain a clean environment and prevent the spread of diseases.
Reproduction and Social Behavior
Reproduction and social behavior in the Crested Caracara are fascinating aspects of this raptor species’ life. These birds form monogamous pairs that maintain stable bonds over time.
During the breeding season, Caracara pairs actively collaborate in nest-building. These nests are large and robust, primarily composed of interwoven twigs and leaves. They are usually positioned on trees or shrubs, providing protection and safety for the hatching chicks.
Once the nest is complete, the female usually lays two or three eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which lasts approximately 30-40 days. This shared responsibility of incubation is a notable aspect of the Crested Caracara, demonstrating equal involvement from both parents in raising the young.
After the eggs hatch, both parents engage in the care of the chicks. They provide food and protection, collaborating in hunting and nurturing. This cooperative behavior between parents is crucial for ensuring their survival and healthy growth.
This shared dedication of the parents to raising the chicks reflects a strong bond and cooperation within the pair — a valuable lesson that perhaps even humans should strive to emulate.
Conservation of the Carancho
Habitat loss represents one of the main threats to the survival of the Caracara, as natural areas are being destroyed to make way for human expansion and intensive agriculture. Furthermore, illegal hunting poses a constant danger to this species, both for its trophy value and its role as a scavenger of animal carcasses. Another serious threat is accidental poisoning from pesticides, which can occur when the Caracara feeds on contaminated prey.
Significant progress is being made within the conservation project for the native forest of Selva de Urundel to preserve a part of this unique species’ habitat. The project will receive the CCB (Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards) certification from Verra, meeting the GL3 Gold Level criteria, which certifies that Exceptional Biodiversity Benefits have been accomplished.
The team’s biologists are conducting transects and using camera traps to identify and map the main animal species present in the project area. The use of these camera traps has allowed experts to collect valuable data on the behavior and distribution of the Caracara. This information enables scientists and environmentalists to better understand the species’ life habits, including movements, habitat preferences, and interactions with other species. This knowledge is crucial for implementing specific conservation measures to protect the Caracara’s habitat and reduce the threats it faces.
The ultimate goal of the project is to create a balanced environment where all animals can thrive, preserving ecological balance and biodiversity not only within the project area but also beyond it.