Tuesday and Wednesday, June Newman and I searched for the Crested Caracara.
This is a synopsis of what we learned about the Crested Caracara seen in Newton County, Missouri in November/December, 2015. Others with better information are encouraged to share it on this forum in the hope that better informed birders will have an increased chance of relocating the bird.
In a conversation with Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) employee Jake Hughes on December 9, at a maintenance building at Fort Crowder Conservation Area, Mr. Hughes said he first saw the bird “almost three weeks ago.”
This sighting was on Rt. HH, northwest of Owl Road. The bird was on a dirt mound (landowner sells topsoil). Mr. Hughes knew he’d not seen this kind of bird before. He described it as black and white “standing tall” and orange on its beak. He told another MDC employee about it, and they looked in a field guide, but did not find anything that matched what Mr. Hughes saw.
Mr. Hughes told others about the strange bird he’d seen, but there were no reported sightings until Monday, December 7. The bird was seen by Sarah Cook, a close acquaintance of Mr. Hughes eating a roadkill opossum at the corner of Mallard Road and Rt. D (about 2 miles south of the previous sighting). She was able to photograph it, and called a friend who was an hour away.
The bird was lost, then refound at least once that day. Photographs were posted by Ms. Cook to Facebook. Relays of word that the photographs were on Facebook included a general location as “southeast of Crowder College”. Subsequent inquiries resulted in the Rt. D and Mallard Rd. area as the location.
On December 8, birders learned that in addition to the Rt. D/Mallard site, it had been seen “up near the shooting range”. The shooting range is on Owl Road north of D. Apparently this was a third-hand reference to the initial sighting that was actually well north and west of the shooting range.
At least four carloads of birders searched most of the daylight hours on December 8, and at least one car searched for 6 hours on December 9. The bird was not refound. Searching was focused on the area from Mink Road (first road west of Mallard) to Owl Road and some to Parrot Road (east of Owl), mostly to the south of Rt. D. Some forays were made to the north, past the shooting range, but the turn around point was at Rt. HH. We didn’t learn of the exact location of the first sighting until nearly out of time on December 9, so had not searched that immediate vicinity.
TERRAIN AND HABITAT
This part of Newton County, Missouri ranges from large areas of almost flat through gently rolling to rolling land. A great deal of it is grassland. Grass type varies. Much of this is in pasture with cattle present; much is hayfields. There are some areas that are quite savanna-like, with a few large trees in the grasslands. There are several small woodland areas (much like woodlots), and some woodland in the lower areas to the south near Indian Creek. Fort Crowder Conservation Area is 2,212 acres of mostly woodland lying north of Rt. D, east of Owl. This appears to be the largest non-grass dominant land in the vicinity.
Generally speaking, although not nearly as flat as coastal Texas, the “feel” of the land we searched was very much like that of Kleberg, Kenedy, Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo counties in southeast Texas. These are counties where Crested Caracara are common.
An additional feature that might be attractive to a Crested Caracara are several pullet and egg laying facilities, with multiple buildings at 4 sites. One is about a half-mile south of Rt. D on Mallard, two are on the south side of Rt. D between Mallard and Owl, and one on the north side at Owl. These greatly reminded me of the now defunct facilities east of Kingsville, TX (Kleberg Co.), where great concentrations of Crested Caracaras were found when chicken carcasses were dumped near them.
There was a cow carcass on the west side of Owl south of Rt. D that several Bald Eagles had been feeding on. We saw at least 7 Bald Eagles in the search area. There were a few Turkey Vultures and several pairs of Red-tailed Hawks.
Mr. Hughes said he regularly put out road kill deer in an open area at the Conservation Area and had enjoyed watching the eagles on them in past years, but that he had not found any deer carcasses to put out yet this season.
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