Tag: Yellow-headed Caracara (Page 1 of 2)

Yellow-headed Caracara in Popeye’s Parking Lot

Strange times are these in which we live

Popeye’s Dumpster + Halal Meat Market = Yellow-headed Caracara in Los Angeles

All rarities are not equal. Sometimes, a bird is found in a place so improbable that the biggest mystery is what in the wide world of sports the bird is doing there. The Snowy Owl we had in Los Angeles in December 2022 was one such bird. The wandering Steller’s Sea Eagle that has traveled since 2020 from Alaska to Texas and then to Newfoundland is another.

How these vagrants ended up out of place matters in a bunch of ways. If it escaped captivity as a pet, or as a falconry bird, or if it was sprung from a zoo like Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-Owl in New York City (may he rest in peace), it’s a fun curiosity. Same for those birds who (probably) hitched a ride on a cargo ship across the ocean. If it’s part of a group that was intentionally released (European Starling in the U.S.) or escaped captivity (parrots on Southern California), it might lead to a sustaining population. If it is naturally occurring–that is, if it flew on its own–it creates questions for science. Was it moved by a big storm? Is it out of range because of food stress, or habitat loss, or climate change? Is it a species that is thriving and expanding its range?

My first, distant, fuzzy look of an out-of-place raptor

We had one of those improbable birds in Los Angeles in April when a Yellow-headed Caracara was found dumpster diving behind a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. Yellow-headed Caracara are a South American raptor that is a regular as far north as Costa Rica. That’s a long, long way from Hollywood. And yet, a Yellow-Headed Caracara spent a winter in Humboldt County, California in 2007-08. Another has been around Miami, Florida for two years (and is still there). Did this L.A. bird fly here on its own? Did it hitch a ride on a tanker going through the Panama Canal and disembark at nearby Long Beach harbor? The answer is almost certainly unknowable. That’s a bummer for those obsessed with their official list. Like the Snowy Owl, it probably won’t be considered “countable”, at least for now. But my list is my list, and it doesn’t play by the birding police rules. As I’ve said before, if a bird can survive for more than a week, however it got there, its counts on my list. 

So it was with a mixture of wonder and joy that I headed out to see the caracara. When I showed up at the Popeye’s parking lot, there were a half dozen birders, but no caracara. It had apparently been there before I arrived, and flew off to the west. So I went walking the neighborhood to the west (between sitting and wandering, I’m a wanderer). After a half hour, I found the Yellow-Headed Caracara. First, I saw a raptor fly in from the northwest and dip down behind a house. I walked down the street a bit hoping for a view, and found the caracara perched on a utility pole. Some crows were harassing it, and it flew to the cover of a big tree. I alerted the birders via WhatsApp, and a couple of folks scurried over to see it. The views at this point weren’t good. But the bird was calling occasionally, a loud screech. After 20 minutes or so without the bird moving, I left. It eventually made it back to Popeye’s, waiting for dumpster eats and looking for hand-outs. Two weeks later, it is still there.

It’s a wonder that more birds don’t hang around dumpsters and fast food parking lots. They’ve got to be reliable sources of food, and for scavengers like caracara or vultures, they’d seem to be prime targets. Apparently, the L.A. caracara had been around for at least 3 weeks before the birding world discovered it. Curious to see how long it remains.





Costa Rica (2018) #5: Birding Dominical beach and Rio Baru

Yellow-headed Caracara Dominical Costa Rica

Yellow-headed Caracara

Birding Dominical: The beach and Rio Baru

This is (finally) my last post about the week we spent in December 2018 in Dominical, Costa Rica. And for the first time, I’ll be talking about birds I saw somewhere other than at our villa property . During the week, we did leave the property. I never birded Hacienda Baru, which has an extensive (425 species) eBird list, except for the birds I saw without binoculars while doing an amazing zipline tour there. It seemed like pretty similar habitat to our villa, and you had to pay to bird there, so I just explored close to home. An afternoon trip to Parque Reptilandia was surprisingly unproductive for birds, but good for lizards.

I rounded out my area list in and around the little town of Dominical, which sits on the Rio Baru where it flows into the ocean. We did surfing lessons at Dominicalito Beach, and had delicious tacos in Dominical a couple of times.

Great Kiskadee Dominical Costa Rica

I’ve never seen the yellow stripe on top of a Great Kiskadee’s head before

The trips to the beach and river mouth produced 9 lifers: Melodious Blackbird, Mangrove Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Ruddy Ground Dove, Lesser Greenlet, and the only trip sightings of Common Black Hawk, Amazon Kingfisher and Common Tody Flycatcher.  There’s a trail along the southern shore of the Rio Baru that heads from one end of town to the beach.

There were other familiar birds at Dominical. Indeed, much of my list could have just as easily been a 5MR list. We saw Brown Pelican, Willet, Sanderling, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Snowy Egret, Great-tailed Grackle and Osprey.

Sandwich Tern Dominical Costa Rica

Sandwich Tern

There were also plenty of birds around that I couldn’t find close to home. Sandwich Terns and Gull-billed Terns flew about. Laughing Gulls lounged on shore. A Tricolored Heron and Little Blue Heron fed in the shallows. And of course there were Tropical Kingbirds, which are ubiquitous in the area.  

Magnificent Frigatebird Costa Rica

Magnificent Frigatebird

We never made it to Parque Nacional Mario Ballena, a whale’s tail shaped beach south of Dominical. Nor did we go to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (monkeys and sloths, but we had those on the property, without crowds or entrance fees). If I was back in the area again (please let that happen), I’d spend a day checking out locations even further south like Sierpe and Gamba. I’d add a day trip to San Isidro del General, too, which is at a higher elevation and promises some different birds. 

And I’d go back to Dominical in a second. Laid back vibe. Not crowded. Easy to get around. Incredible scenery. And so many awesome birds.

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