Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
There are three reports of Crested Caracara in Duval County, one of which is a confirmed “record”. The first was documented by Sam Grimes (1944), who stated that on 18 April 1925: “I saw a lone caracara at a point near Cassat Avenue, the present western boundary of the city of Jacksonville. The bird flew leisurely overhead at a low elevation in a westerly direction. A hundred years earlier Audubon had seen and obtained specimens in St. Augustine, but at present time its occurrence up this way is strictly accidental”. The next observation was submitted on 21 February 2000 by a motorist on the extreme western edge of the county, who reported seeing two individuals in the company of Turkey Vultures feeding on road kill along Interstate 10. A remarkable record from Fort George Island comes from 23 June 2018, where the observer found a Caracara feeding on a dead raccoon on the road and was astute enough to snap a photograph of the bird.
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
American Kestrels are a fairly common winter resident and are very scarce in summer. They start increasing in abundance around the last week of September and all but disappear by the last week of April. Having said that, they have been known to breed in the county as far back as 1983, when seven young were recorded in nest boxes along the “kestrel trail” supported by the local Audubon Society (Paul, 1983). Today, good places to check for them include Sheffield Park, M&M Dairy, the Lem Turner spray fields, and Imeson Center, where they are all but guaranteed on or around the power lines running along the railroad tracks.
Merlin Falco columbarius
Merlin are uncommon in all seasons, and you really can’t expect to see one anytime you go birding. They tend to arrive around the same time as the kestrels (if not a week or two earlier), and can be found into May. They’re most abundant in April. The best places to look for them are Huguenot, Little Talbot Island, and along the river behind Kingsley Plantation. Reddie Point Preserve is also as good a location as any, especially during months of migration. Another great location for falcons (Merlin and Peregrine primarily) in the fall and winter is around Spoonbill Pond or from the overlook at Big Talbot Island State Park.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Peregrine Falcons can be found roughly the same times as Merlin, but they really peak in October (there is a long-standing hawk watch focused on Peregrine Falcon movement just south of us in Guana each October). The very best place to see them in Duval County is Huguenot Memorial Park. In late September through early November, look for them around the jetties or on the mudflats along the north end of the lagoon area where they are often either loafing or dining on one of the shorebirds. It is not unusual to arrive at Huguenot at dawn in October and while scanning the gulls for a Franklin’s, see the crowd scatter as a Peregrine takes an unfortunate larid. You then get the pleasure of watching it shred its prey through your scope in the magnificent soft light of the rising sun.