Tag Archive | caracaras

A journey to meet the Red-throated Caracara in Guyana



Recently, I made a long journey in South America, up the Rewa River in Guyana, in search of caracaras and other Amazonian fauna.

The story of this trip takes a bit of explaining. Last year, after our abortive research mission to Honduras, Catherine and I were holed up at my mom’s in Victoria writing our respective theses. We had little occasion to go to Vancouver, but in April we both needed to go over to take care of some administrative details at the university. While sitting in the lab after managing our red tape, the phone rang. As usual, no one in the lab jumped up to get the phone, so I picked it up and found that the person on the other line was looking for me, and wondering if I wanted to talk about caracaras.



Jonathan Meiburg, looking at home far up the Rewa, in the heart of the Amazonian forest region.


Well, after a good 90 minute conversation about my favourite loud birds and their relatives, I found out that the fellow I was speaking to was Jonathan Meiburg, a professional musician and a student of the biology and biogeography of striated caracaras (the fabled “Johnny Rook” of the Falkland Islands). I found out that Jonathan was a great student of caracara biology, and had written a wonderful thesis on the Johnny Rook (which he should really put online…I am not kidding, it is an absolute pleasure to read!) which also covered the biology and paleontology of the other caracaras.

We continued to keep in touch from that time, until last fall when Jonathan invited me to accompany him on a journey to the Amazonian forest to meet the Red-throated Caracaras, which he and I agree are the oddest of a very odd group of birds. The plan was to go to the Republic of Guyana, where Jonathan had some acquaintances working, and to journey up the Rewa River to the heart of Ibycter territory: the primary rainforests of the Amazonian bioregion.

total journey

In the following posts covering the trip, I will not stick to a travelogue format, but rather will skip around, introducing the characters (human and otherwise) we met along the way. As I write this, Jonathan is still out there in the forests of Guyana, hunting for the elusive heart of Amazonia, no doubt being serenaded by the harsh screams of the Red-throated Caracaras.

river HDR2



Getting started!


So after getting settled in Gualaco and taking care of some red tape, Catherine and I, along with Isidro Zuniga will be headed out to the field tomorrow. We expect to be doing a bit of mapping, and getting familiar with the territory, after which we will attempt to do a call-playback survey for caracaras.

I managed to score some sweet GIS layers from the ICF guys in Tegucigalpa, and from what I am seeing, the caracaras being followed last year are in a belt of forest with very limited human habitation. Apparently they are seen occasionally all around, even as far as just east of Gualaco, but their stronghold seems to be where the people are not. Of course, we have no data of our own yet, but soon we shall see!

I am hoping the terrain will be workable, the caracaras amenable and the weather enjoyable! Wish us luck!

In Gualaco!


Morning in Gualaco, looking southwest. Those are the cloud forests of the Sierra de Agalta National Park in the background.

We have arrived (finally) in Gualaco, after a crazy few days passing from Vancouver to San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa. 

It has been quite hectic getting settled, and I am having difficulty re-adjusting to Spanish. We have an apartment now, and so are feeling a bit less nomadic than when staying at the hotel. 

We went out and saw the areas we will be working in yesterday, and they are in really really rugged terrain! The forests are mostly pine (Pinus oocarpa), and the terrain is mountainous and steep in many paces. Much of the region is second growth, and is used for ranching. The forest is rather open, due to periodic burning and grazing, but getting around is still rather difficult due to the topography. We tried some caracara call playback, but had nothing responding whatsoever. This is very different from the situation in Amazonia.


The rolling pine forests northwest of Gualaco. This is right near the are where caracaras nested last year.

We are planning on staying put for the next few days, but will head out to Tegucigalpa next week for permit applications, and then will do a scouting mission starting on the 20th. With terrain like this, we will most definitely be getting our exercise!




It takes a crazy bird to mess with these gals…


Social wasps have many dramatic and painful ways of saying” don’t mess with us”, but some animals just don’t take the hint. Red throated Caracaras are one of these foolish/awesome creatures. If you are in Victoria BC this Wednesday, come out to my talk for the Victoria Natural History Society’s Birder’s night to find out more about loud birds messing with painful wasps. 7:30 pm, March 27, Fraser Building room 159.


Official blurb:

Like the Old World Honey Buzzards, the Red-throated Caracara is a specialist predator of social wasps. Because social wasps are well defended with stings and are avoided by many birds, we were interested in determining how caracaras deal with the defensive wasps. Using video traps to observe caracara predation on social wasps we found that they use several behavioural strategies to avoid wasp defences. Separate work using nest cameras found that up to 7 adult birds were involved in the feeding of a single chick, possibly making the species one of the most social of the Falconidae. Join Sean McCann as he talks about his 5 years of research in the South American rainforest on the unique foraging biology of this species. We meet at 7:30pm in room 159 of the Fraser building. Everyone is welcome. Bring a friend and a coffee mug.