Photo Credit: Glen Tepke
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Caracara cheriway
OTHER NAMES: Common Caracara; Audubon’s Caracara; Mexican Eagle; Mexican Buzzard
DESCRIPTION: The crested caracara is a rather large member of the Falcon family measuring 20-25 inches. They are mostly dark brown with a bare patch of red skin at the base of the bill. The top of the head, including the crest, is dark brown. They are white around the neck with white striations going down to the chest. The tail is whitish underneath with a wide dark brown band at the end. The legs are long and absent of feathers. The wings are tipped with white underneath. The flight feathers are spread at the end similar to vultures when in flight. They have a wing span of approximately 4 feet and weigh 1¾ to 3½ pounds. Weights vary greatly depending on where the birds live.
DISTRIBUTION: The crested caracara ranges from the southwest United States through Texas and south Florida, Central America and South America. They are currently diminishing in Florida because of habitat loss, but are expanding in range in Texas.
HABITAT: Caracaras inhabit dry scrubland and prairies.
FEEDING HABITS: The majority of their diet is composed of carrion; however, they also eat small mammals, fish, crustaceans, insects, and turtles. Sometimes in the mornings, caracaras can be seen flying along highways looking for animals killed by cars. They may harass other scavenger birds, such as turkey vultures until they surrender their food to the caracaras.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Both sexes of caracaras take part in building the large bulky nests out of sticks and vines. They then line the nests with finer materials. Nests are normally built in cacti, palmetto or high in trees, but occasionally they will be built on the ground. Two to four eggs are usually laid in January or February. The eggs are pinkish with dark marks. Incubation is shared by both parents for 28-30 days. After hatching, the young are fed meat by both parents for two to three months.
Burton, Dr. Maurice and Robert. 1970. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, NY.
Peterson, Roger Troy. 1980. A field guide to the birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY.
Stokes, Donald W. and Lillian Q. 1996. Stokes field guide to birds: eastern region. Little, Brown, and Company Limited, Canada.
Author: Kevin Holsenback, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries