Amazing Facts About the Mexican Eagle
Let's get the confusing part out of the way first — when we talk about the Mexican eagle we mean the crested caracara and not the golden eagle depicted on the Mexican flag. The crested caracara is actually the national bird of Mexico — a big difference — which is why it's the OG Mexican eagle.
The fact that the Mexican eagle has remained so popular over time, despite it never even coming close to extinction nor ever being an elite-level predator, is an interesting story that can only be told when this bird really spreads its wings and you see it in its full glory.
In flight, the Mexican eagle is truly something to behold. Here are some amazing facts about this amazing animal.
Where Can You See the Mexican Eagle?
The Mexican eagle's native habitat begins as far north as the southern half of the United States, through Central America and to the southernmost tip of South America.
In the U.S., the Mexican eagle is most commonly seen in Texas but has been spotted as far north as Crescent City, California, in the west and Vermont in the eastern half of the country.
And where are you most likely to see one of these birds? Around people and in areas where there aren't a lot of dense, humid forests. It's largely thought that the decimation of rainforests in South America has led to the Mexican eagle thriving in those areas. They want wide-open spaces with dense nesting areas.
How to Spot the Mexican Eagle
Mexican eagles are from the falcon family and are considered raptor birds (or birds of prey). They're so massive that they're considered the second-largest falcons, measuring as much as 2 feet tall and having a wingspan of up to 4 feet.
The Mexican eagle has a light-blue beak and its cere, or the exposed skin from the end of the beak to the face, changes from red as a juvenile to light yellow as a young adult to a dark yellow or light orange as a fully grown adult.
It Doesn't Behave Like a Falcon
The Mexican eagle doesn't behave like a typical falcon and often gets confused with a hawk because of its long, skinny legs. In actuality, the Mexican eagle behaves more like a vulture because it likes to walk on the ground pretty frequently, and when it comes to food, it's more of a scavenger than anything else. Not only do these birds like to walk around and see what's up ... they fly very, very low to the ground.
For a Mexican eagle, anything is fair game when it comes to food. It will hunt absolutely anything, big or small, but it most often finds its food source by feeding off dead-animal carcasses and stealing food from other birds and animals. Yes, it's quite the thief!
If You See Vultures ... You Might See Mexican Eagles
Mexican eagles are so common when it comes to living off dead-animal carcasses that crafty bird spotters should keep an eye out for packs of vultures because you're likely to see a Mexican eagle in their midst. In fact, the quickest way to spot a Mexican eagle among vultures is to look for the alpha scaring off the vultures — as that's usually their typical behavior.
But you have to be quick because the Mexican eagle is unbelievably fast on its feet and has been known to chase down jackrabbits and fight with snakes.
Totally Unique When It Comes to Nesting
Compared to other types of falcons, the Mexican eagle is totally unique when it comes to nesting its eggs.
Every other falcon species either uses the ground, scraping deep into the dirt to bury their eggs, or chooses a previously used nest for its eggs. The Mexican eagle has some straight diva behavior regarding its young — they only use nests they've built themselves.
How Do They Take Care of Their Young?
Mexican eagles usually have about two to three eggs in their nest — hardly ever do they go above that number — with an incubation period of about 30 days. Both mother and father will bring food to the hatchlings for the first six to eight weeks of their lives before they take their first flight, and it's not uncommon for the chicks to stay in the nest for another few weeks after that.
So, the next time your friends give you a hard time about living in your parent's basement ... drop some Mexican eagle facts on them.
How Long Do Mexican Eagles Live?
The oldest Mexican eagle on record was tagged in Florida in 1994 and then again in the state and identified by its original band in 2015 — exactly 21 years and nine months later.
But, in general, crested caracaras are thought to live to be around 30 years old at their oldest.
Caracara Is Also the Sound Mexican Eagles Make
Breaking down how the crested caracara got its name translates to observing the bird and its calls.
The "caracara" part comes from Brazilians who identified the bird by the distinct sound it makes ... which sounds exactly like its name.
How Climate Change Impacts the Mexican Eagle
Climate change is definitely impacting where you can see Mexican eagles — mainly in the U.S.
Once only seen in Florida and the southernmost parts of Texas in the U.S., Mexican eagles have now seen their range expand to parts of Georgia, Mississippi and even into New Mexico.
Mexican Eagle's Only Natural Predator: Man
There is no natural predator for the Mexican eagle — they are an alpha falcon, essentially — save for humans. In the U.S., Mexican eagles are on the endangered species list because of the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which means they're off-limits to hunt.
In Mexico, where it's the national bird, that's not the case. The national bird can sometimes turn into that night's dinner if the mood strikes.
Folkore Extends Back to 16th-Century Codex
The reason the crested caracara eventually became Mexico's national bird traces directly to a pair of ancient manuscripts. The Florentine Codex, written by Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun, and de Sahagun's manuscript, which he worked on from 1545 until his death in 1590, were meant to be kind of an encyclopedia of the Mesoamerica region that we now know as central Mexico extending into South America.
His manuscript included artistic drawings of the crested caracara, as did several Aztec codexes that depicted the beginning of that culture in Mesoamerica and the founding of the great city of Tenochtitlan in the early 1300s — the center of what we now know as Mexico City.
Why Mexican Eagles and Bald Eagles Get Confused
There is a straightforward explanation as to why Mexican eagles and bald eagles get confused — mainly because each has four points of white.
That means white wing tips, white faces, white necks and white tails.
Do Mexican Eagles Prey on Pelicans?
The Mexican eagles — also known as tropical falcons — actually have beef with another beloved tropical bird in the pelican. One of the more unique ways that the Mexican eagle finds food is by taking aim at pelican nests and attacking pelicans to get them to drop the food meant for their babies.
Another animal that Mexican eagles prey on is the turtle. Mexican eagles are constantly on the lookout for turtle nests because they know turtles don't come back to watch over their eggs. That's fine dining for the national bird of Mexico.
Glorious When It Spreads Its Wings
If you want to truly understand why the Mexican eagle is so beloved in parts of the world, you only need to see it in full flight.
When stretched more than 4 feet wide, the bird's wings have a see-through look that allows light to come through them quite spectacularly. It's impossible not to think that this falcon, with its wings spread out, may have been the inspiration for the Falcon comic book character that's beloved in pop culture.