Crested caracara

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Crested caracara
An adult crested caracara perched on a rock
An adult crested caracara in Serra da Canastra National Park, Brazil

Secure  (NatureServe)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Caracara
C. plancus
Binomial name
Caracara plancus
(Miller, JF, 1777)

Polyborus plancus

The crested caracara (Caracara plancus), also known as the Mexican eagle,[3] is a bird of prey in the falcon family, Falconidae (formerly in the genus Polyborus). It is found from the southwestern and southeastern United States through Mexico (where it is present in every state) and Central and South America, as well as some Caribbean islands. Documented rare sightings have occurred as far north as northern Minnesota and as far south as Tierra del Fuego.


In 1777, English illustrator John Frederick Miller included a hand-coloured plate of the crested caracara in his Icones animalium et plantarum (“iconic animals of the planet”). He coined the binomial name Falco plancus and specified the type locality as Tierra del Fuego.[4] The specific epithet plancus is Latin for "eagle".[5] The crested caracara is now placed in the genus Caracara (which was introduced in 1826 by German naturalist Blasius Merrem).[6]

Two subspecies are recognised:[6]

The subspecies C. p. cheriway was formerly classed as a separate species, with the common English name of the northern crested caracara.[6][12]


The crested caracara has a total length of 50–65 cm (20–26 in) and a wingspan of 120–132 cm (47–52 in). Its weight is 0.9–1.6 kg (2.0–3.5 lb), averaging 1,348 g (2.972 lb) in seven birds from Tierra del Fuego.[13][14] Individuals from the colder southern part of its range average larger than those from tropical regions (as predicted by Bergmann's rule) and are the largest type of caracara. In fact, they are the second-largest species of falcon in the world by mean body mass, second only to the gyrfalcon.[14] The cap, belly, thighs, most of the wings, and tail tip are dark brownish, the auriculars (feathers surrounding the ear), throat, and nape are whitish-buff, and the chest, neck, mantle, back, upper tail coverts, crissum (the undertail coverts surrounding the cloaca), and basal part of the tail are whitish-buff barred dark brownish. In flight, the outer primaries show a large conspicuous whitish-buff patch ('window'), as in several other species of caracaras. The legs are yellow and the bare facial skin and cere are deep yellow to reddish-orange. Juveniles resemble adults, but are paler, with streaking on the chest, neck, and back, grey legs, and whitish, later pinkish-purple, facial skin and cere.


A bold, opportunistic raptor, the crested caracara is often seen walking around on the ground looking for food. It mainly feeds on carcasses of dead animals, but steals food from other raptors, raids bird and reptile[15] nests, and takes live prey if the possibility arises (mostly insects or other small prey [such as small mammals, small birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crabs, other shellfish, maggots, and worms][16][15][17] but only up to the size of a snowy egret). It may also eat fruit. It is dominant over the black and turkey vulture at carcasses. Furthermore, it also pirates food from them and buteos, as well as from brown pelicans, ibises, and spoonbills, chasing and harrying until they regurgitate or drop food.[17] The crested caracara takes live prey that has been flushed by wildfire, cattle, and farming equipment. Locally, it has even learnt to follow trains or cars for food thrown out.[17] The opportunistic nature of this species means that the crested caracara seeks out the phenomena associated with its food, e.g. wildfires and circling vultures.[18] It is typically solitary, but several individuals may gather at a large food source (e.g. dumps). Breeding takes place in the Southern Hemisphere spring/summer in the southern part of its range, but timing is less strict in warmer regions. The nest is a large, open structure, typically placed on the top of a tree or palm, but sometimes on the ground. The typical clutch size is two eggs.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The crested caracara occurs from Tierra del Fuego in southernmost South America to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America. An isolated population occurs on the Falkland Islands. It avoids the Andean highlands and dense humid forests, such as the Amazon rainforest, where it is largely restricted to relatively open sections along major rivers. Otherwise, it occurs in virtually any open or semi-open habitat and is often found near humans.

Reports have been made of the crested caracara as far north as San Francisco, California.[19] and, in 2012, near Crescent City, California.[20] Some are believed to possibly be living in Nova Scotia, with numerous sightings throughout the 2010s.[21] In July 2016 a northern caracara was reported and photographed by numerous people in the upper peninsula of Michigan, just outside of Munising.[22][23][24] In June 2017, a northern caracara was sighted far north in St. George, New Brunswick, Canada.[25] A specimen was photographed in Woodstock, Vermont in March 2020.[citation needed] The species has recently become more common in central and north Texas and is generally common in south Texas and south of the US border.[citation needed] It can also be found (nesting) in the Southern Caribbean (e.g. Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire)[citation needed], Mexico, and Central America.

Florida caracara[edit]

Florida is home to a relict population of northern caracaras that dates to the last glacial period, which ended around 12,500 BP. At that time, Florida and the rest of the Gulf Coast were covered in an oak savanna. As temperatures increased, the savanna between Florida and Texas disappeared.[26] Caracaras were able to survive in the prairies of central Florida and the marshes along the St. Johns River. Cabbage palmettos are a preferred nesting site, although they also nest in southern live oaks.[27] Their historical range on the modern-day Florida peninsula included Okeechobee, Osceola, Highlands, Glades, Polk, Indian River, St. Lucie, Hardee, DeSoto, Brevard, Collier, and Martin counties.[28] They are currently most common in DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Okeechobee, and Osceola Counties.[29] It has been seen on the East Coast as far as extreme eastern Brevard County, Florida (Viera, Florida), where it is now considered a resident, but listed as threatened. In February 2023 a crested caracara was identified in St, Johns County, Florida and documented by The St. Johns County Audubon Society on their social media page.

Crested caracara in Mexico[edit]

Mexican ornithologist Rafael Martín del Campo proposed that the northern caracara was possibly the sacred "eagle" depicted in several pre-Columbian Aztec codices, as well as the Florentine Codex. This imagery was adopted as a national symbol of Mexico, but it is not the bird depicted on the flag, which is a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the national bird.[30]

Texan eagle[edit]

Balduin Möllhausen, the German artist accompanying the 1853 railroad survey (led by Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple) from the Canadian River to California along the 35th parallel, recounted observing what he called the "Texan Eagle", which, in his account, he identified as Audubon's Polyborus vulgaris. This sighting occurred in the Sans Bois Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma.[31]


Throughout most of its range, its occurrence is common to very common. It is likely to benefit from the widespread deforestation in tropical South America, so is considered to be of least concern by BirdLife International.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Caracara plancus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22733377A95058702. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22733377A95058702.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0". Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  3. ^ "Crested Caracara Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology". Retrieved 28 November 2023.
  4. ^ Miller, John Frederick (1777). Icones animalium et plantarum. Various subjects of Natural History, wherein are delineated Birds, Animals and many curious Plants, &c (in Latin). Vol. 1. London. Part 3, Plate 17. The work was published in 10 parts with 6 plates in each part. See: Sherborn, C.D.; Iredale, T. (1921). "J. F. Miller's Icones". Ibis. 11th series. 3 (2): 302–309. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1921.tb00801.x.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 309. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ a b c Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2023). "Seriemas, falcons". IOC World Bird List Version 13.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 3 October 2023.
  7. ^ "Observations • iNaturalist". iNaturalist. Retrieved 2 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "Observations • iNaturalist". iNaturalist. Retrieved 2 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ "Observations • iNaturalist". iNaturalist. Retrieved 2 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ a b "Observations • iNaturalist". iNaturalist. Retrieved 2 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "Observations • iNaturalist". iNaturalist. Retrieved 2 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ Chesser, R.T.; Billerman, S.M.; Burns, K.J.; Cicero, C.; Dunn, J.L.; Hernández-Baños, B.E.; Kratter, A.W.; Lovette, I.J.; Mason, N.A.; Rasmussen, P.C.; Remsen, J.V.J.; Stotz, D.F.; Winker, K. (2021). "Sixty-second Supplement to the American Ornithological Society's Check-list of North American Birds". Ornithology. 138 (ukab037). doi:10.1093/ornithology/ukab037.
  13. ^ Info about the southern caracara at
  14. ^ a b CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses, 2nd Edition by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (2008), ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  15. ^ a b "Caracara cheriway (Crested caracara)". Animal Diversity Web.
  16. ^ "Crested Caracara | the Peregrine Fund".
  17. ^ a b c Ferguson-Lees, J. & Christie, D.A. & Franklin, K. & Mead, D. & Burton, P.. (2001). Raptors of the world. Helm Identification Guides.
  18. ^ Dunne, Pete (2012). Hawks in flight : the flight identification of North American raptors (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-395--70959-7.
  19. ^ "Rare Raptors". Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. Archived from the original on 3 October 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  20. ^ "caracara sighting record". Project Noah. 13 February 2012.
  21. ^ "What's this crested caracara doing in Nova Scotia? | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  22. ^ Scot, Stewart. "News". Nature Photography by Scot Stewart. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  23. ^ Bernard, Daryl. "Crested Caracara". Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  24. ^ "Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Instagram". Archived from the original on 2021-12-24. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  25. ^ Corbett, Tanya. "News". CBC News. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  26. ^ "Chapter VIII. Florida Relict Species". Resource Guide. Indian River Lagoon Envirothon. Retrieved 23 January 2009.[dead link]
  27. ^ "Audubon's Crested Caracara" (PDF). South Florida Ecological Services Office. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  28. ^ Morrison, J.L. (October 2004). "The Crested Caracara in the changing grasslands of Florida" (PDF). In Noss, R. (ed.). Land of Fire and Water: The Florida Dry Prairie Ecosystem. Proceedings of the Florida Dry Prairie Conference, October 2004. Sebring, Florida. pp. 211–215.
  29. ^ "Species Profile: Crested Caracara". Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  30. ^ González Block, Miguel A. (2004). "El Iztaccuahtli y el Águila Mexicana: ¿Cuauhtli o Águila Real?". Arqueología Mexicana (in Spanish). XII (70): 60–65. Archived from the original on 2009-02-16.
  31. ^ Möllhausen, Balduin (1858). Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to Coasts of the Pacific With a United States Government Expedition. Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts. p. 45.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dove, C. & R. Banks. 1999. A Taxonomic study of Crested Caracaras (Falconidae). Wilson Bull. 111(3): 330–339. Available online (PDF) Archived 2012-03-02 at the Wayback Machine
  • Ferguson-Lees, J., D. Christie, P. Burton, K. Franklin & D. Mead (2001). Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-8026-1
  • Restall, R., C. Rodner, & M. Lentino (2006). Birds of Northern South America. Vol. 1 & 2. Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-7242-0 (vol. 1); ISBN 0-7136-7243-9 (vol. 2)
  • Schulenberg, T., D. Stotz, D. Lane, J. O'Neill, & T. Parker III (2007). Birds of Peru. Helm, London. ISBN 978-0-7136-8673-9

External links[edit]