Photo: Ron R Bielefeld/Audubon Photography Awards

Crested Caracara

Caracara cheriway

Related to the typical falcons, but very different in shape and habits. The Crested Caracara is a strikingly patterned, broad-winged opportunist that often feeds on carrion. Aggressive, it may chase vultures away from road kills. Widespread in the American tropics, it enters our area only near the Mexican border and in Florida. "Caracara" comes from a South American Indian name, based on the bird's call.
Conservation status Has declined in parts of U.S. range, owing to shooting and habitat loss. Some evidence of recent increases in Texas. The distinctive race on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, became extinct in 1900.
Family Falcons
Habitat Prairies, rangeland. Lives in a wide variety of semi-open habitats offering open ground for hunting and dense cover for nesting. In our area these include wet prairies of Florida, Texas coastal plain, desert in Arizona. Found in other kinds of open terrain in American tropics.
Related to the typical falcons, but very different in shape and habits. The Crested Caracara is a strikingly patterned, broad-winged opportunist that often feeds on carrion. Aggressive, it may chase vultures away from road kills. Widespread in the American tropics, it enters our area only near the Mexican border and in Florida. "Caracara" comes from a South American Indian name, based on the bird's call.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

An opportunist, hunting and scavenging in a variety of ways. Often hunts by flying low, taking small animals by surprise. Flies along highways early in morning, searching for road kills. May steal food from other birds. May scratch on the ground for insects, or dig up turtle eggs.


Eggs

2-3, rarely 4. Pale brown, blotched with darker brown. Incubation is reportedly by both sexes (although female may do more), about 30 days. Young: Both parents bring food to young in nest. Age of young at first flight varies, probably usually 6-8 weeks. Young may remain with parents for several weeks after fledging.


Young

Both parents bring food to young in nest. Age of young at first flight varies, probably usually 6-8 weeks. Young may remain with parents for several weeks after fledging.

Diet

Carrion, small animals. Feeds on a wide variety of smaller creatures, either captured alive or found dead. Diet includes rabbits, ground squirrels, skunks, various birds (plus their eggs and young), frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, young alligators, fish, large insects.


Nesting

In courtship, two birds may toss heads back repeatedly while giving guttural call. Members of a pair may preen each other's feathers. Nest sites vary, usually 8-50' above ground in top of shrub or tree, such as live oak, cabbage palm, acacia; in Arizona, sometimes in giant cactus. Nest is a bulky structure of sticks, weeds, debris, sometimes built on top of old nest of other species. Nest may be reused annually, with more material added each year.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Adults are typically permanent residents on territory. Young birds may wander considerable distances.

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Migration

Adults are typically permanent residents on territory. Young birds may wander considerable distances.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
High, harsh cackle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Falcons Hawk-like Birds

Crested Caracara

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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