A rare raptor visitor turns up near Batesville, Arkansas


Crested caracara

Among the birding community (don't call them birdwatchers) and with much of the public, raptors or birds of prey are something special.

Hawks, falcons, owls, vultures and eagles draw our attention in addition as being the sources for assorted misinformation, exaggeration and even fear.

One incident from close to 40 years ago was at a school assembly in a small northeast Arkansas town. The superintendent introduced Jane Gulley, the Arkansas Eagle Lady, and told the students, "We need to listen to her about eagles even if they do carry off a lot of our deer fawns."

Experts say eagles can lift four pounds at the most. No baby deer, no small children.

Birders and others were excited recently when a crested caracara was captured near Oil Trough on the White River downstream from Batesville.

Crested what? Crested caracara is a cousin of vultures that lives in south Texas, southern Arizona and the extreme southern tip of Florida plus Mexico and other points to the south. A crested caracara had never been seen in Arkansas previously. The bird looks something like a vulture dressed up for Saturday night.

Landowner Craig Shirley saw the bird in his pasture and passed the word to Audubon Society people. Several hightailed it to the scene and found the bird was not flying. It didn't try to avoid them. So they called the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and wildlife officer Roger Tate went to the scene, captured the bird, and a volunteer took it to Rodney Paul's Raptor Rehabilitation of Central Arkansas at El Paso.

Paul said the bird was badly undernourished but otherwise uninjured. It is slowly recovering.

It will be released back into the wild when fully recovered, and a problem has arisen on this point.

The customary procedure is to take a rehabilitated raptor back to the place where it was found for release. But a crested caracara? Never before seen in Arkansas? Where did it come from - south Texas, south Florida, Arizona, Mexico or even Cuba? No one knows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took a blood sample and is trying to do DNA tests to find its origin.

As it stands without knowing this, Paul said, the likely plan is to take it back to that pasture at Oil Trough and turn it loose.