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Some scavenging birds share equal parenting duties

Scavengers often get a bad rap, but a recent study sheds new light on the cooperative parenting style of scavenging falcons called chimango caracaras (Milvago chimango).

The fascinating research reveals that these raptors exhibit remarkable teamwork while raising their chicks.

Chimango caracaras (Milvago chimango)

Chimango caracaras are fascinating raptors found exclusively in the Americas. These birds are particularly common in central Argentina but also inhabit regions farther south, including Chile and Uruguay.

Known for their curiosity, creativity, and intelligence, chimango caracaras often go unnoticed due to their scavenging habits, which sometimes give them a bad reputation.

Chimango caracaras exhibit a unique and cooperative approach to family life. When starting a family, these birds select nesting sites in trees or sometimes on cliffs or man-made structures. Both parents are involved in building the nest using sticks and other available materials.

Once the eggs are laid, the parents take turns incubating them, ensuring they are kept at the right temperature. After the chicks hatch, both parents share brooding and feeding duties, demonstrating remarkable teamwork.

They adjust their care based on the chicks’ developmental stages, increasing brooding during cooler periods and ramping up food delivery as the chicks grow.

Biparental care

Conducted by Diego Gallego-García from the Center for the Study and Conservation of Birds of Prey in Argentina (CECARA) and his team, the research provides the first in-depth look at the nesting behaviors of Chimango Caracaras in central Argentina.

Over a two-year period, the team observed 70 nests during the breeding seasons of 2016 and 2017. The findings highlight a high level of biparental care in these birds, a behavior that is not well-documented among raptors.

Caracaras are generally understudied, despite being known for their curiosity, creativity, and charisma. Limited knowledge about their life history hinders our understanding of their population dynamics, ecological roles, and conservation needs.

Studies like this one are crucial for expanding our awareness and appreciation of these scavenging birds.

Unique parenting of chimango caracaras

Unlike many raptor species where there is a significant size difference between males and females, chimango caracaras have little size disparity. This physical similarity, combined with their dual roles as predators and scavengers, promotes a shared approach to parenting.

Gallego-García’s team discovered that chimango caracara pairs evenly divide the responsibilities of incubation, brooding, and feeding their young.

The parents demonstrated a keen understanding of their chicks’ needs at different developmental stages. For instance, they increased brooding time during cooler mornings in the early days when chicks couldn’t regulate their body temperature. As the chicks grew and required more food, the parents adjusted by delivering more sustenance.

Raptors and ecosystem health

Understanding the reproductive biology of raptors like the chimango caracaras is vital for conservation efforts.

“The importance of studying raptor reproductive biology goes beyond the conservation of the species themselves,” said Gallego-García.

“Raptors occupy the highest position in the food chain and control populations of prey species below them. We need to know what happens during reproduction, one of their most important and fragile life stages.”

Local landowners in central Argentina have shown a growing interest in these birds, often contacting researchers when they find injured or dead chimangos, or new nests. “We invite them to attend banding days with nestlings,” said Gallego-García.

Future of chimango caracaras

Gallego-García and his co-authors call for further research on the reproductive success of chimango caracaras across broader regions. They aim to study the survival rates of fledglings after they leave the nest and become independent.

Continued support for such research will enhance our foundational knowledge of these unique raptors and their ecological contributions.

The collaborative efforts of chimango caracara parents offer a heartwarming glimpse into the complex lives of scavengers, challenging their often-misunderstood reputation.

As we learn more about these birds, we can better appreciate their role in maintaining the health and balance of our ecosystems.

The study is published in the journal Journal of Raptor Research.


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