Bird GuideFalconsCrested Caracara

At a Glance

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.
Falcons, Hawk-like Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Landfills and Dumps, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Florida, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


20-22" (51-56 cm). W. 4' (1.2 m). Colorful face, black crest, black belly. In flight, dark body and wings contrast with pattern of four pale areas: chest, base of tail, and patches near each wingtip. Juvenile is browner.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Orange, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Fingered, Long, Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

High, harsh cackle.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising, Simple
Call Type
Rattle, Scream


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.



2-3, rarely 4. Pale brown, blotched with darker brown. Incubation is reportedly by both sexes (although female may do more), about 30 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Crested Caracara. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Crested Caracara

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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