Crested caracara has birders flocking to Sussex

Believed to be first-ever sighting of colorful scavenger in Delaware
Delaware's first crested caracara perches atop a dead tree north of Millville in southeastern Sussex County. BY SHARON LYNN
March 13, 2013

The first crested caracara ever seen in Delaware has the Delaware birdwatching scene buzzing. Sharon Lynn of Rehoboth Beach notified Delmarva Ornithological Society officials last Friday after she saw the bird and took definitive photographs near the Bay Forest community in southeastern Sussex County. The sighting is under review as a possible first for the Delaware record books.

“I've seen plenty of these birds in Texas, Mexico and South America,” said Lynn, an avid birder. “But never before in Delaware. I think it's a first state record but that's being checked on now.”

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says of the crested caracara: “A tropical falcon version of a vulture, the Crested Caracara reaches the United States only in Arizona, Texas, and Florida. It is a bird of open country, where it often is seen at carrion with vultures.”


Lynn said her boyfriend, Chris Gaglione, is not a birder but is becoming one by osmosis. “He and Joe Cheria were working on a Schell Brothers job near Ellis Point [north of Millville] when they saw a strange bird eating on a deer carcass. He thought it was a fancy chicken but I've trained him to call me when he sees an unusual bird and take a photograph. He called me at 8 a.m., and I immediately drove down there hoping to take a look. I was excited and crazed when I saw it and called a friend to post it on the Delaware birding site. People started coming quickly and the bird was very cooperative. Plenty of people have seen it. The last sighting was yesterday.”

Lynn said crested caracaras are large birds and feed on carrion. She said there were plenty of dead animals in the area where it has been seen. “I even photographed it eating on what I think was a ground hog.” She said the tropical-looking birds typically frequent open country where it is arid and warm. “Locals in the area said they have been seeing the bird since before hunting season, which started last fall. That's surprising since there was a pretty thorough bird count in that area during the annual Christmas bird count, and it wasn't noticed. But that doesn't mean it wasn't there.”

She said there were three reports of crested caracaras in New Jersey in the past few months. “No one's sure whether they were all the same bird or might be related to this bird.”

Birds seen in places not usually expected are called accidentals or vagrants, said Lynn. “There have been records of these birds being seen in other unusual places so apparently they do roam.”

When she first saw the bird feeding on the dead deer last Friday, the snow was flying horizontal and the setting was totally out of character for a caracara.

“It's very exciting,” she said. “The whole area is full of birders.”

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