Guadalupe Caracaras

The Guadalupe Caracara (Caracara lutosa) is an extinct bird of prey belonging to the falcon family (Falconidae). It was, together with the closely related Crested and Southern Caracara, formerly placed in the genus Polyborus.

This species inhabited Mexico’s Guadalupe Island until the beginning of the 20th century. Specimens are available for display in Chicago, Washington, and London.

The Crested Caracara is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Guadalupe Caracara”, because the extinct birds were formerly considered a subspecies of the extant taxon. They were reinstated as a full species in 2000.

Guadalupe Caracaras

It was described as “evil” and “vicious” by early observers. It was driven to extinction by a hunting and poisoning campaign led by goatherders on Guadalupe Island. In March 1897, only one bird was encountered, but additional members of the species survived.

The last living specimens were recorded shot on December 1st, 1900, by collector Rollo Beck; it seems that he killed all of the 11 birds he encountered except two, believing from their fearlessness that they were common.

The Guadalupe Caracara is one of the few species that were intentionally rendered extinct by humans. In its particular case, it was demanded by goat farmers that the birds were to be killed off as they occasionally fed on young goats (though the role of Polyborus lutosus as a predator of goats was much exaggerated).

It stands to note that its erstwhile home was at that time being devastated by tens of thousands of goats gone feral, leading to the extinction of several endemic species caused by the near-total destruction of habitat.

In an apparent case of coextinction, the ischnoceran louse Acutifrons caracarensis is only known from the Guadalupe Caracara.

Around 35 specimens (skins, skeletons and 2 eggs) remain in public collections today.

Photo of author

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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