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
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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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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.

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