- Common Name:
- Crested caracaras
- Scientific Name:
- Caracara cheriway
- Average Life Span In The Wild:
- Up to 8 years
- Between 21 and 23 inches long
- About two pounds
- IUCN Red List Status:
- Least concern
What is a crested caracara?
Large members of the falcon family, crested caracaras are regal-looking birds known for their voracious and wide-ranging appetites. They’re scavengers that feed on carrion, as well as predators that hunt a wide range of prey, from fish to small birds to mammals. They’re one of the few birds of prey, including the secretary bird, that stalk their prey on foot.
The crested caracara’s range extends across the southern U.S., including Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, in addition to parts of Central America. There are 10 other species of caracara that live exclusively in Central and South America.
These handsome predators are known for their long, black head crests and bright red-orange faces. When they’re excited or stressed, their blood flow is interrupted, turning their skin yellow.
Crested caracaras are non-migratory birds and prefer open habitats, such as prairies, deserts, scrublands, and agricultural lands. After a field is plowed or destroyed by fire, caracaras will often scour the land looking for small animals that died. Caracaras are regularly seen perching on a tall tree, cactus, or fence post, on the lookout for prey.
When crested caracaras begin to breed, at about three years old, the male puts on a unique courtship display, in which he throws his head back and gives a guttural cry.
Once mated, these monogamous birds build a new nest out of twigs and vines, the only falcon species that builds a nest from materials they collect themselves rather than using abandoned nests of other animals. Nests, which can be 50 feet high, are shallow bowls situated in the crooks of cactus arms or among the limbs of tall trees, such as cabbage palms.
A mother will lay up to four eggs, which are incubated by both parents for up to 32 days. Young, born with a black cap that eventually becomes their distinctive crest, fledge after about two months in the nest. Families are seen together hunting for about three weeks after fledging.
As wide-ranging birds with flexible diets, crested caracaras are resilient species, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as “of least concern.”
However, in Florida, their habitat is endangered by urban and agricultural development, particularly as the state’s population increases. As ground dwellers, they’re also hit and killed by cars. Both factors make them a threatened species in Florida.
DID YOU KNOW
Caracara talons are flatter than that of other falcons, which enables them to walk more easily on the ground.
Crested caracaras may flip over cow pats in search of the delicious dung beetles and other insects underneath.
Crested caracaras are not social birds, staying with their mate or family group during breeding season. With these chosen few they will groom one another, known as allopreening.