The cover of this book grabbed me like a raptor’s talons. This is Georg(e) Forster’s watercolor of a Striated Caracara, a species confined to the Falklands, made during Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775) in search of the southern continent. There are nine other species of caracaras, birds found almost exclusively in South America. There are also some extinct species–and the Striated may well be heading that way.

Only the (Northern) Crested Caracara gets into the United States, with populations in Florida and Texas, and the occasional aberrant one getting as far north as Seattle and, on this coast, Bear Mountain in NY. (Bones of Pleistocene caracaras and California Condors, which used to range the continent, have been found near Bear Mountain, so the bird is, perhaps, coming back.) I saw a few near the Rio Grande.

Caracaras are falcons, but they seem closer to their parrot cousins than, say, Peregrines and American Kestrels. Inquisitive, communal, exploratory, able to learn and seemingly able to teach, with a wide latitude for what they’ll eat–practically anything and everything, including carrion and excrement (evidently seal poop is rich with partially digested gifts of the sea)–they’re rather like corvids. In fact, they take the place of corvids: until reading this, I hadn’t realized there are no crows or ravens in South America.

In addition to evolution, this book necessarily discusses geology and the reason for South America’s uniqueness, as well as its gifting of marsupials northwards into our backyards. There’s also much appreciation for Anglo-Argentine naturalist and ornithologist William Henry Hudson (1841-1922), who was born in the land of caracaras to English immigrant parents. Hudson is probably best remembered for Green Mansions, a 1904 novel that was more successful in the U.S. than the UK, but he wrote a lot of books. There are 24 volumes in his Collected Works. Unmentioned here is his A Shepherd’s Life, which much influenced James Rebanks recent (and recommended) The Shepherd’s Life. I’m going hunting for Hudson’s Long Ago and Far Away: A History of My Early Life, praised by both Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, an unexpected combination of admirers.


More reading: this review/dismemberment of a book by one of the new eugenicists is important. These racists (and classists) have returned with a vengeance, peddling the same old bullshit of century ago, now wrapped up in willful misreading of DNA and genetics. They even come claiming to be “progressive.” (A nice nod to the dark side of the Progressive Era.)

1 Response to “Caracaras”

  1. 1 Charles McAlexander April 10, 2022 at 9:18 am

    See also Johnathan Meiburg’s presentation Looking for Johnny Rook: Adventures in the World of Caracaras via Zoom Tuesday night, April 12th as the guest lecturer at the monthly meeting of the Linnaean Society of New York. Go to the website to register for the free meeting presentation.

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