It was still a half-hour before the park gates at Myakka River State Park opened, my father-in-law and I just finished our coffees, and we were waiting to get inside the park. When we saw a large raptor feeding on a gator that had been hit by a car, we initially thought it was another turkey vulture. But up closer, what we thought was another vulture was boldly-patterned with streaks of white and a contrasting black crown — and not mostly black and dark brown. It was a crested caracara!
The crested caracara took off with a fresh piece of gator, and perched in a snag on the other side of the road.
There are only about 250 nesting pairs of the Florida subspecies of the crested caracara, called the Audubon caracara.
While caracaras may occasionally soar like eagles, they are more often seen flapping their wings almost constantly when in flight. Though graceful in the air, the photo below shows the birds long legs that attribute to a slightly awkward appearance as they stand and walk upright on the ground to feed. The caracara also has two other features that stand out. Its featherless face can range in color from yellow to orange to red, depending on the situation. When calm, the face skin is bright red-orange, but when threatened, it turns a pumpkin color or yellow. The raptor’s distinctive crown of black feathers lay flat most of the time, but are raised when threatened.