Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

Details About The Crested Caracara

  • General Information

    The Crested Caracara is a medium-sized raptor with bold black and white plumage pattern and bright yellow-orange, unfeathered face, legs and tarsi. The head is slightly flattened with prominent black cap; the feathers are somewhat elongated to form a “crest.” The lower back, abdomen, and wings are brownish black to black. The sides of head, throat, breast, and upper back are buffy white; tips of feathers on upper back and breast horizontally barred and spotted with brownish black. The tail is cream with brownish black bars and broad, dark, terminal band.

    Latin Name: Caracara cheriway
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Falconidae
    Length: 49-58 inches
    Weight: 28.8-44.8 ounces
    Wingspan: 46-52 inches
    Common Name: Mexican Eagle, Florida Caracara, Caracara Eagle
    Etymology: caracara – probably comes from a South American native onomatopoetic name; polyborus– many or varied, gluttonous, referring to varied diet; plancus- flatfooted

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    In flight, the Crested Caracara's fully extended wings are held flat, wing-beats shallow and steady. It can be distinguished by its regular, powerful wing-beats as it cruises low across the ground or just above the treetops. When searching for live prey, its flight is low, sweeping, and harrierlike; pursuits may be long and persistent.

    The caracara is mostly silent. They give a loud rasping mechanical sound, like running a stick along a fence, often with head-throwback display (defensive). Sequence is generally Cackle, Rattle, Cackle.

    Caracaras prefer open habitats, typically grassland, prairie, pastures, or desert with scattered taller trees, shrubs, or cacti in which it nests. They may use sparsely wooded areas and brushland if patches of trees are interspersed with expanses of open grassland. They are declining throughout their range from habitat loss.

  • Nesting

    Adult pairs are generally monogamous and highly territorial and exhibit strong site fidelity. Caracaras will actively defend nest territory, particularly within 100 meters of nest. Pair bond maintained year-round, and individuals may remain paired for many years. They are the only member of Falconidae that actually collects materials and constructs a nest. Regularly occupies, refurbishes, and reuses old nests or builds new nest in same support structure. This species nests in tallest vegetation or tree-like structure commanding wide view. Nests are bulky yet woven, well-constructed structure composed of vines, weed stalks, briars, and twigs. The female lays 2 eggs, sometimes 1 or 3, rarely 4. Both sexes incubate, an incubation patch is present in both sexes, lasting 30 – 33 days. Young fledge between 7 – 8 weeks. Male and female provide food, but female feeds young more than male. Young continue to be fed by parents until 2 – 3 months after fledging. Siblings are playful and are frequently seen conducting aerial maneuvers, diving, chasing each other.

  • Distribution

    The Crested Caracara ranges from northern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego; in US it occurs only along the southern border of Texas, Arizona, and in Florida, where there is an isolated population in the south-central peninsula. This species is declining throughout range due to habitat loss and is not found in the Carolinas.

  • Food

    Insects; small and occasionally large vertebrates, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals; eggs; and carrion of all types make up the diet of the Crested Caracara. When prey is detected in flight, this bird wheels around and descends to ground, then walks up to prey. The bird will walk in newly plowed fields behind tractors and alongside cattle pastures, snapping up insects disturbed by activity and wade in shallow water in search of food. Caracaras occasionally hunt cooperatively. They carry food with their beak rather than feet; generally captures larger prey with feet, nips it through back of skull, and carries it in talons but cannot open large carcasses; waits for vultures or heat to effect opening. This species will eat any animal matter, alive or dead, that it can catch or find and may be more interested in insects associated with carrion than with actual carcass. They have been suspected of attacking and killing newborn lambs and goats, for which they have suffered heavy persecution, but there is little evidence to suggest that killing actually occurs.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Omaha, a male Crested Caracara, was transferred from San Antonio, Texas, where this species is found in the wild. When a daughter of a donor had to be Medi-vac'ed to the hospital, her code name was "Omaha." This bird is named in honor of her successful trip.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Cornell's Lab of Ornithology calls the Crested Caracara a tropical falcon version of a vulture, a bird of open country, often is seen at carrion with vultures. Wait, what?

    A common subject of folklore and legends throughout Central and South America, the Crested Caracara is sometimes referred to as the "Mexican eagle." It is featured in both pre-Columbian Codices and the Florentine Codex.)