I'm a bird lover, so before leaving for Aruba I looked up what birds I might expect to see while on the island. Our grand total came to 19 species: frigate bird, bananaquit, grassquit, mocking bird, hummingbird, brown pelicans, terns, osprey, kestrel, Aruban parrots or Prikichi, doves, egrets, herons, gulls, ruddy turnstones and oystercatchers. But by far the most surprising and breath-taking sight was the Caracara(Caracara plancus). Also called the Mexican Eagle, it is a large black bird with white markings. It is actually a member of the falcon family. The first one I spotted was perched atop a tall cactus just outside of Arikok. I managed to snap a shot of it just before and after it flew off.
We had at least two more similar sightings in Arikok, but the best encounter happened on the night before we left Aruba. We were driving up to witness the sunset at the California Lighthouse on the westernmost tip of the island. As we passed an area with tall grass, I noticed a large brown bird hopping up and down. My husband was able to slow down enough for me to get these shots of a young Caracara. This bird's plummage was much lighter in color and browner than the adult Caracaras we had spotted in the national park. Perhaps it was trying to kill or flush out prey. A lizard, maybe?
Their size is amazing. With a body length of up to 23 inches and a 4-foot wingspan, the Caracara is an impressive bird. These birds have a thick heavy bill for feeding on carrion, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and a host of other foods. Their range extends from the southwestern United States southward to Central and South America. For more information about Caracaras including a recording of their call, check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds.