Striated caracara (Phalcoboenus australis)
|Also known as:||Johnny rook|
|Spanish:||Caracara Austral, Matamico Estriado, Matamico Grande, Tiuque Cordillerano Austral|
|Size||Length: 58 – 65 cm (2)|
The striated caracara is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
The striated caracara (Phalcoboenus australis) is a distinctive and charismatic raptor, which has the southernmost overall breeding distribution of any bird of prey in the world (4). The plumage is mostly deep brown to blackish-brown, with fine white streaking beginning at nape of the neck, and becoming broader and more conspicuous on the upper back and breast. The underwing is reddish brown with white tips on the primary feathers, while the tail ends in a whitish band. A bare yellow patch of skin around the eyes and base of the beak provides a striking contrast with this species’ dark plumage and bluish bill. The immature striated caracara is browner than the adult and lacks the distinctive streaking and tail band, but possesses a tawny patch on the upper back (2).
The striated caracara is found on isolated shores and islets off extreme south Argentina and Chile, including the south and east coasts of Isla Grande on Tierra del Fuego, Isla de los Estados, Navarino, Cape Horn, and the Falkland Islands (5).
The striated caracara typically inhabits open lowland areas, mainly along rocky coastlines, but also potentially occurs at higher elevations on low coastal mountains (5). This species is only found on islands where populations of seals or seabirds are present (4).
During his visit to the Falklands, Charles Darwin was struck by the tameness, inquisitive behaviour and opportunistic feeding habits of the striated caracara (6). Indeed, individuals of this species, particularly juveniles, show little fear of humans and can be easily caught with a hand net. The striated caracara’s curiosity is more than a just behavioural quirk, however, and probably helps it to develop novel ways of finding food. For example, this species will dig prions (small seabirds) from out of the burrows where they reside during the day, and will also hunt them on the wing at night. In addition to small seabirds, the striated caracara also feeds upon the eggs and chicks of larger seabirds such as penguins and albatrosses, and on the carcasses of furseals and penguins (4). Where livestock farming occurs, this species has been brought into conflict with humans as it will attack weak or stranded sheep (5) (7).
The striated caracara’s breeding season occurs during the austral summer, from December to late February (4), with the female laying a clutch of up to four eggs in a nest constructed from twigs and vegetation, lined with grass and wool (7). After fledging the young birds congregate in large flocks (4).
As a result of its classification as a pest of sheep farming, in 1908 the striated caracara became subject to an intensive programme of extermination on the Falkland Islands. Fortunately, in the 1920s, objections by the Government Naturalist James E. Hamilton led to the programme’s cessation, but not before the population of this species had been severely reduced (8). Despite a gradual recovery, the restricted range of this species has meant that its population remains relatively small (4) (5). Nevertheless, at present the striated caracara is not considered to be facing any significant threats (5).
The striated caracara is officially protected by Falkland Islands law, making it illegal to kill this species without written permission from the Falkland Islands government (8). A notable success story for this species has occurred on New Island, West Falklands. Despite having been extirpated from the island in the 1960s, the management of the island as a private Nature Reserve since 1972, has allowed the striated caracara to re-colonise the island, and now represents the largest single-island breeding population in this species range (4).
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- Primary feathers: the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
IUCN Red List (April, 2009)
- Blake, E.R. (1977) Manual of neotropical birds. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
CITES (April, 2009)
- Catry, P., Lecoq, M. and Strange, I.J. (2008) Population growth and density, diet and breeding success of striated caracaras Phalcoboenus australis on New Island, Falkland Islands. Polar Biology, 31: 1167 - 1174.
BirdLife International (April, 2009)
Darwin, C.R. (1839) Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. Henry Colburn, London. Available at:
Falklands.net (April, 2009)
- Woods, R.W. (2007) Distribution and Abundance of the Striated Caracara Phalcoboenus australis in the Falkland Islands – 2006. Falklands Conservation, Stanley, Falkland Islands.