Ibycter – Red-throated caracara

The largest species of the three species present in the Amazon

With its striking appearance and unique dietary habits, it is a bird of prey found in the neotropical forests of Central and South America. It stands out among the raptors for its preference for preying on social insects, a quite unusual trait in the bird world.

This caracara is easily identified by its black plumage, which contrasts sharply with its red throat patch, a feature most prominent in adults. It resides in the humid evergreen forests, forest margins, and clearings with scattered trees, generally at elevations between 500 and 700 meters. The bird’s habitat choice reflects its need for large trees for nesting and an abundance of its preferred food sources.

Unlike many of their predatory relatives, Red-throated Caracaras have a specialized diet that primarily consists of wasp and bee larvae and the eggs of these insects. They are known to boldly attack and dismantle the nests of stinging insects, a risky feeding strategy that most birds avoid. In addition to these, they also consume hard palm fruits, various invertebrates, and, opportunistically, turtle eggs.

Their feeding behavior is quite sophisticated. Most of the flock forages in the understory, targeting the nests of bees and wasps, while a couple of individuals may perch higher in the canopy, serving as lookouts. This social foraging strategy allows them to effectively locate and exploit food resources while maintaining a lookout for potential threats.

The social structure of the Red-throated Caracara is indeed reminiscent of eusocial insects, such as bees and ants. They live in cooperative groups, with breeding pairs and non-breeding individuals that help with nest defense and feeding the young. This cooperative breeding system is relatively rare among birds of prey and highlights their complex social dynamics.