Yellow-headed caracara

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Yellow-headed caracara
Adult at Serra da Canastra National Park, Brazil
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Milvago
M. chimachima
Binomial name
Milvago chimachima
(Vieillot, 1816)
  • Daptrius chimachima[3]
  • Polyborus chimachima (Vieillot, 1816)
  • Falco readei (Brodkorb, 1959)
  • Milvago readei (Brodkorb, 1959)

The yellow-headed caracara (Daptrius chimachima) is new-world bird of prey in the family Falconidae, of the Falconiformes order (true falcons, caracaras and their kin).[4] It is found as far north as Nicaragua, south to Costa Rica and Panamá, every mainland South American country (except Chile), and on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago.[5][6][7]

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

Louis Pierre Vieillot described the yellow-headed caracara as Polyborus chimachima, putting it in the same genus as the crested caracaras.[8] In 1824, German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix created the genus Milvago for this species and the closely-related chimango caracara.[9]

The taxonomy of the caracaras has not been settled. The American Ornithological Society and the International Ornithological Committee place the yellow-headed and chimango caracaras in the genus Milvago.[10][11][4] BirdLife International's Handbook of the Birds of the World places the yellow-headed caracara alone in Milvago, with the chimango caracara and four others placed in the genus Phalcoboenus.[12] The Clements taxonomy places the yellow-headed, chimango and four other species in the genus Daptrius;[13][3] the other systems place only the black caracara in Daptrius.[11][4][12]

Worldwide systems agree that the yellow-headed caracara has two subspecies, the nominate M. c. chimachima, and M. c. cordata.[4][12][3]

A larger, stouter paleosubspecies, M. c. readei, occurred in Florida, and possibly elsewhere, some tens of thousands of years ago, during the Late Pleistocene.[14]


The yellow-headed caracara is 40 to 45 cm (16 to 18 in) long. Males weigh 277 to 335 g (9.8 to 12 oz) and females 307 to 364 g (11 to 13 oz). Their wingspan is 74 to 95 cm (29 to 37 in). The sexes' plumages are alike. Adults of the nominate subspecies have buff to creamy yellowish white heads, necks, and underparts with a thin dark streak through the eyes. Their back and wings are blackish brown with a whitish patch at the base of the primaries that shows in flight. Their uppertail coverts and tail are buff with dusky bars and the tail has a black band near the end. Their iris is reddish brown surrounded by bare bright yellow skin and their legs and feet are pea green. Immature birds have browner upperparts than adults and their underparts have brown streaks. Subspecies M. c. cordata is a darker buff on the head and underparts than the nominate and has narrower bars on the tail.[15][16]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Subspecies M. c. cordata is found in southwestern Nicaragua, western Costa Rica, and most of Panama, and in mainland South America from Colombia east through Venezuela and the Guianas, south through Ecuador and Peru east of the Andes, and across Brazil north of the Amazon River. The Nicaragua records are only since 2008, and there are also scattered eBird records as far north as Guatemala and Belize. Off the north coast of the South American mainland, it occurs on Aruba, Trinidad, and Tobago, and has visited Bonaire and Curaçao as a vagrant. The nominate M. c. chimachima is found from eastern Bolivia south through Paraguay into northern Argentina and east through northern Uruguay and Brazil south of the Amazon River. Its range overlaps with that of the chimango caracara in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.[16][5][17][7]

The yellow-headed caracara is a bird of lightly-treed open landscapes, like savannas with palms and scattered trees, ranchlands and pastures, gallery forests, and the edges of denser forests. In elevation, it mostly ranges from sea level to 1,000 m (3,300 ft), though it has been recorded at about 2,500 m (8,200 ft) in Colombia's Cauca River valley.[16][15]



The yellow-headed caracara is generally sedentary, but records from northern Central America and islands off the north coast of South America indicate that individuals do wander. Within its usual range, it colonizes cleared areas.[16][15]


The yellow-headed caracara is omnivorous and relies heavily on scavenging. Its diet includes carrion, insects (adult and larval), crabs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, bird eggs and nestlings, horse dung, fruits such as those of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), coconut, and maize, and seeds.[18] It also takes ticks from cattle and other large mammals like capybaras and tapirs and enlarges open wounds.[19] Much of its diet is taken while walking on the ground, but it does some hunting on the wing.[16][15][20] It has also been observed to forage for small invertebrates in the fur of brown-throated three-toed sloths.[21] Mixed-species feeding flocks apparently do not regard it as a threat, not making alarm calls during encounters.[22]


Juvenile seen in June in Santa Catarina, Brazil

The yellow-headed caracara's nesting season varies geographically. It spans from December to April in Costa Rica. In Colombia, there appear to be two seasons, January to April and July to September. It includes August in Venezuela. Egg laying has been recorded in May in Guyana, in July and August in central Brazil, and in September in southern Brazil. It usually builds a stick nest up to 15 m (50 ft) high in a tree or palm but has also nested in a tree cavity, and in the absence of trees on mounds in marshy areas, on the ground, and even in buckets and cans on the wall of a house. The clutch size has been reported as one or two eggs and also as four. The incubation period is about 22 days, fledging occurs 17 to 20 days after hatch, and young are dependent on the parents for about three more weeks. The female does most of the incubating but both parents provide the young.[15][16]


The yellow-headed caracara is vocal mostly during the breeding season and also when quarreling over food. Its most common calls are a "scratchy wailing keeeah or a more drawn-out keeeeeeeee"; the calls are sometimes made singly but more often repeated. Other calls are a "more growling kraaa-kraaa-kraaa or krrrr-krrrr-krrrr; [a] piercing chay; and [a] thin hissing whistle, ksyeh, ksyeh."[15]


The IUCN has assessed the yellow-headed caracara as being of Least Concern. It has an extremely large range and an estimated population of at least five million mature individuals that is believed to be increasing. No immediate threats have been identified.[1] It "will certainly move into lowland areas as they are converted from forest to cattle ranches or to small- or to medium-scale farming."[16]



  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2020). "Yellow-headed Caracara Milvago chimachima". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T22696261A163573161. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22696261A163573161.en. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved February 13, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2022. Downloaded from retrieved November 10, 2022
  4. ^ a b c d Gill, F.; Donsker, D.; Rasmussen, P., eds. (January 2023). "Seriemas, falcons". IOC World Bird List. v 13.1. Retrieved February 11, 2023.
  5. ^ a b McCrary, J.K.; Young, D.P. Jr. (2008). "New and noteworthy observations of raptors in southward migration in Nicaragua". Ornitología Neotropical. 19 (4): 573–580.
  6. ^ Check-list of North American Birds (7th ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Ornithologists' Union. 1998.
  7. ^ a b Remsen, J. V., Jr., J. I. Areta, E. Bonaccorso, S. Claramunt, A. Jaramillo, D. F. Lane, J. F. Pacheco, M. B. Robbins, F. G. Stiles, and K. J. Zimmer. 30 January 2023. Species Lists of Birds for South American Countries and Territories. retrieved January 30, 2023
  8. ^ Drapiez, Auguste (1838). Dictionnaire classique des sciences naturelles, présentant la définition, l'analyse et l'histoire de tous les êtres qui composent les trois règnes (in French). Vol. 4. Brussels, Belgium: Meline et Cans. p. 350.
  9. ^ Godwin, Frederick Ducane; Salvin, Osbert (1904). Biologia centrali-americana. Vol. 3. R.H. Porter. p. 127.
  10. ^ Chesser, R. T., S. M. Billerman, K. J. Burns, C. Cicero, J. L. Dunn, B. E. Hernández-Baños, R. A. Jiménez, A. W. Kratter, N. A. Mason, P. C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., D. F. Stotz, and K. Winker. 2022. Check-list of North American Birds (online). American Ornithological Society.
  11. ^ a b Remsen, J. V., Jr., J. I. Areta, E. Bonaccorso, S. Claramunt, A. Jaramillo, D. F. Lane, J. F. Pacheco, M. B. Robbins, F. G. Stiles, and K. J. Zimmer. Version 30 January 2023. A classification of the bird species of South America. American Ornithological Society. retrieved January 30, 2023
  12. ^ a b c HBW and BirdLife International (2022) Handbook of the Birds of the World and BirdLife International digital checklist of the birds of the world. Version 7. Available at: retrieved December 13, 2022
  13. ^ Fuchs, Jérôme; Johnson, Jeff A.; Mindell, David P. (2012-03-05). "Molecular systematics of the caracaras and allies (Falconidae: Polyborinae) inferred from mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data". Ibis. 154 (3). Wiley: 520–532. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.2012.01222.x. ISSN 0019-1019.
  14. ^ Emslie, S.D. (1998). "Avian Community, Climate, and Sea-Level Changes in the Plio-Pleistocene of the Florida Peninsula" (PDF). Ornithological Monographs. 50 (50): 44–45. doi:10.2307/40166707. JSTOR 40166707.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 806–807. ISBN 0-618-12762-3.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Bierregaard, R. O., G. M. Kirwan, P. F. D. Boesman, and J. S. Marks (2022). Yellow-headed Caracara (Daptrius chimachima), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved February 13, 2023
  17. ^ "Yellow-headed Caracara species map". Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved February 13, 2023.
  18. ^ Ferguson-Lees, J. & Christie, D.A. & Franklin, K. & Mead, D. & Burton, P.. (2001). Raptors of the world. Helm Identification Guides.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Coulson JO, Rondeau E, Caravaca M (March 2018). "Yellow-headed Caracara and Black Vulture Cleaning Baird's Tapir". Journal of Raptor Research. 52 (1): 104–107. doi:10.3356/JRR-16-90.1. S2CID 91157180.
  21. ^ Krakauer, A.H.; Krakauer, T.H. (1999). "Foraging of Yellow-headed Caracaras in the Fur of a Three-toed Sloth" (PDF). Journal of Raptor Research. 33 (3): 270.
  22. ^ Ragusa-Netto, J. (2000). "Raptors and "campo-cerrado" bird mixed flock led by Cypsnagra hirundinacea (Emberizidae: Thraupinae)" (PDF). Revista Brasileira de Biologia (in English and Portuguese). 60 (3): 461–467. doi:10.1590/S0034-71082000000300011. PMID 11188872. Retrieved 2011-07-15.

Further reading[edit]

  • Meiburg, Jonathan (2021). A Most Remarkable Creature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9781101875704.
  • Hilty, Steven L. (2003). Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-7136-6418-5.
  • Ridgely, Robert S.; Greenfield, Paul J. (2001). The Birds of Ecuador: Field Guide. Vol. II. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-0-8014-8721-7.
  • van Perlo, Ber (2009). A Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-19-530155-7.

External links[edit]