THE BONE BREAKERS
AUTHOR: Por Jack Ewing
I once posted a photo of a Crested Caracara on Facebook along with the caption that it is my favorite bird. Among the comments was the question, "How can you have a favorite bird?" That means that I should love all birds equally. Maybe so. Nevertheless, several make my heart beat faster whenever I catch sight of them, but none so much as the crested caracara. The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues says that the crested caracara is the national bird of Mexico, so I guess I'm not the only one whose heart goes pitter-patter at the sight of one.
Many years ago, when Hacienda Barú was a cattle ranch, we used a tractor and a mower to chop pasture weeds. It was a fun job because the sound of the tractor attracted flocks of cattle egrets and a scattering of other birds. Insects, lizards, frogs, and other small animals ran from the machine. The egrets walked and skipped alongside, fluttered ahead in short bursts, and grabbed and ate every living thing small enough to swallow. Once a large rat dashed out, barely avoiding getting killed by the mower, only to get pecked twice, rapid-fire, on top of the head by the straight sharp pointed beak of an egret. It lay there writhing and tried to run but could hardly move. Down swooped a roadside hawk going for the kill but missed the rat, and right behind it came another raptor, twice as big as the hawk. It effortlessly snatched up the rat and carried it off to the pasture's edge to enjoy a hardy meal. The bird turned out to be a crested caracara, and it was the first and only time I had seen one behave like a raptor and capture live prey. They usually are scavengers and sustain themselves on carrion, the rotting flesh of dead animals. Seeing a crested caracara feeding with a group of vultures isn't unusual. Though much smaller than a black vulture, when a crested caracara arrives at a carcass, the large, black scavengers move over and give it plenty of room. Such a beautiful bird is a strange sight pecking away at a carcass while the vultures stand aside and watch.
The Spanish name for the crested caracara is quebrantahuesos or bone breaker. Though I have never seen it happen, I know two people who have witnessed one of these birds carry a bone high into the air and let it fall on a hard surface, like rocks on the beach. If the bone doesn't break on the first try, the caracara repeats the process until it does. Once the bone breaks, the caracara plucks out the nutritious marrow.
Beautiful, powerful, dignified, respected by larger scavengers, and thrifty. What is there not to admire about the bone breaker?
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