A familiar face in the Falklands, the Striated Caracara, shown here in this first photo, looks fearlessly at me at a very close distance. Striated Caracaras, also known as "Johnny Rook" or "Flying Devils, are very tough birds of prey in the Falkland Islands and breed around the albatross and penguin communities.
Striated Caracaras don't exactly have nice long childhoods. At 5 months, the still very young Johnny Rook (Striated Caracara) is kicked out of his birth nest by its parents, and forced to fend for itself. In order to survive, the young juveniles will join a "gang' of other young juveniles that have also been uprooted from their nests. These gangs tend to be rather fearless and quite versatile and adaptable in their survival techniques.
This tough beginning in life takes its toll on the young Johnny Rooks. Only around 1 in 20 manages to survive into adulthood. Along with having to compete for food in a very competitive environment, the first winter for a juvenile Johnny Rook is a harrowing test of survival. Winters on the Falkland Islands are very harsh, with bone chilling temperatures, high winds, snow and a lack of many good sources of food. The few that ultimately do survive their harsh youth-hood, and the long winter, are the smartest, toughest and most resourceful.
Johnny Rook is often not appreciated by the small human population on the Falklands. They get into trashcans and move things to get at food. They are also known to attack baby lambs and weakened sheep. This led, at one time, to their being killed in large numbers by sheep farmers. The toll was heavy on the population of these birds. There are only about 500 breeding pairs left in the Falklands now, and their breeding territory is confined to the outlying smaller islands of the Falklands (the situation has changed with the Falklanders, who now tolerate the Striated Caracaras, which will hopefully allow their numbers to gradually rise).
Johnny Rook is also quite inquisitive and mischievous. For example, one night while aboard our ship, we watched a documentary on these birds by a young research couple who spent time on the Falklands. They had video footage of their campsite being ransacked by a number of juvenile Johnny Rooks. In the video, the pesky birds uprooted the lines holding up their tent, made a mess of their food supply, and played around with their toilet paper.
Some of us on our expedition got to watch a first-hand example of Johnny Rook's curiosity. While we were on Steeple Jason Island, in the far northwest corner of the Falklands, one of our expedition participants laid on the ground playing dead. She wanted to see what the Striated Caracaras would do. If you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you'll see one of them appears to be pecking at her right foot.
The 3 Striated Caracaras shown in the photo, were quite curious about whether this large creature might indeed be dead. If so, what a bonanza in food. My fellow expedition participant eventually got bored though and got up before the birds actually tried to eat her!