Congratulations to coleen61 for winning the March 2020 Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist photo-observation of the month. The image of the rare Crested Caracara that made an appearance this month in Woodstock, Vermont won the adoration of naturalists this month. Incredibly, this is the second time this species has been seen in Vermont! You can read all about this sighting and the first one in a great blog post by VCE’s Nathaniel Sharp.
Known for their wandering, Crested Caracaras have very infrequently turned up in such far-flung places as New York, Maine, and even Nova Scotia. These surprise appearances, however, are not believed to result from migratory “overshooting,” as Crested Caracaras are a sedentary resident species throughout their range. Instead, it is thought that primarily young birds, and occasionally older individuals, disperse in search of new territories, occasionally flying remarkably long distances, perhaps being blown even further off course by strong weather patterns. These oddball birds that stray so far from home may be the pioneers ultimately leading to species’ range expansions over time—flying far and wide ensures finding new habitats, ecological niches and territories, some of which may provide suitable breeding opportunities. While climate change very likely plays a factor in the incremental range expansions northward of birds like Tufted Titmice and Northern Mockingbirds, or upslope in birds like the Blackpoll Warbler, far-ranging individual birds like the Vermont Crested Caracara, or Maine’s famous Great Black Hawk were likely driven by other as-yet unknown reasons.
Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist where you can vote for the winner this month by clicking the ‘fav’ star on your favorite photo-observation. Make sure you get outdoors and record the biodiversity around you, then submit your discoveries and you could be a winner!