Nothing attracts raptors, especially scavengers like vultures and Caracaras, like free food. Within just a few minutes of spreading a banquet of frozen chicken on the ground in front of our blind at Laguna Seca near Edinburg, Texas, the Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures began circling overhead, and a couple of Caracaras made swooping passes over the carcasses. Finally, they decided to test the meat.
An adult (left) and juvenile Caracara were the first ones to sample the banquet.
Using their feet to hold the meat, Caracaras grab chunks of flesh or skin and tug on it until it rips free. They might immediately swallow big chunks but often fly off to a safer location where they can eat without competition from other birds.
Juvenile Caracara flying off with a meal
Turkey Vultures were more timid about approaching the meat. They usually wait until Caracaras have opened up the carcass before they start to feed.
A Harris Hawk took a look at the Caracara feeding frenzy and decided to join in.
The Harris Hawk warned off an encroaching young Caracara several times, smacking it with its wings or threatening with its beak.
A juvenile White-tailed Hawk landed on the feast table but must not have liked what it saw and took off. It’s a much larger bird and could have dominated the other species there for a free meal.
Even though Black Vultures are larger than both Turkey Vultures and Caracaras, they didn’t try to dominate either of the other species. Two Black Vultures instead fed on the fringes of the crowd.
Competition for food inevitably leads to some conflicts between individuals. Exactly what determines who gets to eat what and when may be influenced by the number of individuals of a particular species present, their size, age, and/or temperament.
In this mixed group of raptors species, the smaller Caracaras clearly had the edge, probably because of their numbers, although age didn’t seem to matter, with those aggressive juveniles badgering the adults for food. Both Vultures species were lower on the pecking order, despite their larger size, and took a backseat to both the Harris Hawk and the Caracaras. However, they stuck around to clean up the scraps after others had left the feeding area.
After two hours of intense feeding, there was nothing left but tiny scraps for the mammalian scavengers to clean up.