Audubon’s Crested Caracara Kill Newborn Livestock
Give a dog a bad name, and hang it. In the case of the Audubon’s crested caracara (Caracara cheriway) cattle farmers throughout this bird’s range think that the Audubon’s crested caracara kill newborn livestock. Although there is some truth to that, caracaras do not actively kill livestock; they go after what food becomes available to them an this may have collateral effects.

Crested Caracaras killing newborn livestock is a widely accepted fact among cattle ranchers. Interestingly though, most of this bird’s reputation is spread through word of mouth and exaggerated along the way. One of the most outlandish versions of the story is that:

caracaras kill perfectly fine calves of up to 500 pounds by latching onto their neck and piercing through the ear cavity to the brain and nerves, and with the cararaca sitting right behind the head the calf has no way to get it off.

This is not even close to the truth.

The Audubon’s crested caracara, also called Mexican buzzard, king buzzard, or Mexican eagle, is related to falcons, but unlike falcons, caracaras are opportunistic feeders and scavengers. They usually hang around with the likes of roadside carrion eaters such as black vultures (Corapys atratus) and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and it never passes up an opportunity to eat what is in front of them. They have been seen taking advantage of leftovers at chicken farms, slaughterhouses and garbage dumps. They have also been observed following tractors that were plowing fields and taking grasshoppers and small mammals that had been killed by the plow. Their legs and claws are adapted for walking and running allowing them to actually chase down evading prey. A caracara is physically incapable of latching strongly on anything.

Black Vultures and Caracaras

Vultures and caracaras are extremely useful animals. They will eat decaying dead animals and more importantly, they help control the spread of disease. Animals that died from a disease are quickly consumed helping slow down or stop the spread of such disease by putting the dead animal out of the reach of other animal or humans that could come in contact with it. Vultures are not affected by some of the most viral animal diseases.

As dictated by its opportunistic feeding behavior, caracaras and vultures can kill a calf. In some cases, as cows and other livestock begin to deliver a calf, the more aggressive and numerous black vultures congregate to eat the cow’s after-bird. Depending on the number of birds present and how hungry they are, what starts as pulling the cows placenta turns into a feeding frenzy. The placenta is quickly consumed and birds will start pulling the calf’s umbilical cord and more of its insides. This will kill the calf. Then vultures and caracaras proceed to consume the dead calf.

The vultures in this video are trying to get the cow’s after-birth not to kill the calf.

This does not happen everywhere. It appears both vultures and caracaras have learned and use this feeding strategy in some areas more than others. In places where this behavior has become a problem, it is recommended that caws about to give bith be brought into enclosures where they can be watched, or cows be monitored during the vulnerable moments of giving birth.

It is important to know that both vultures and caracaras are protected by federal law and that there are solutions. The Audubon crested caracara is protected under the Endangered Species Act, and both species are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Permits for eliminating predatory vultures are available through the appropriate State and Federal agencies.