Crested caracara

COMMON NAME: Crested caracara

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Polyborus plancus

Also known as the southern caracara, common caracara, and Mexican eagle, the adult crested caracara has a large, compressed, strongly hooked bill. Its legs are long and its talons thin and blunt. Its flight is direct and purposeful; it rarely soars. The crested caracara can be distinguished from the chimango caracara (Milvago chimango) by its larger more robust build, and more direct flight.

Found in central and southern Florida, southern Texas, southern Arizona south to Tierra del Fuego, Cuba, Isle of Pines, and the Falkland Islands. Although it is usually seen at low elevations, it has been seen at up to 8,000 or 9,000 feet in the Andes. In North America it is strictly tropical or sub-tropical, but the bird frequents colder areas in South America. In South America, the range of the crested caracara overlaps widely with the chimango. There is a slight overlap with birds of the Phalcoboenus genus in mountainous habitat.


The crested caracara prefers open or semi-open country.

During the breeding season, the crested caracara utters a “quick-quick-quick-quick-querrr” from a conspicuous perch. It is this call that gives the bird its name. The crested caracara builds a large informal nest of sticks. Often the nest is unlined, but sometimes it is lined with dry dung and trash. Nests are placed in trees, cacti, or palm fronds and are often reused. In the treeless pampas, the bird nests on the ground, sometimes on an island or in a marsh. It will also nest under rock overhangs in treeless deserts. The male serves as a lookout, on a nearby perch but often leaves when danger approaches. The female lays two or three eggs between November and February. The eggs lay in a deep cup lined with pellets ejected by the parents. The male and female incubate the eggs for 28 days, and the young remain in the nest for another 8-12 weeks.

The caracara is a scavenger and a predator. It eats mammals, vertebrates, insects, and worms. Its long legs and flat claws allow it to walk or run around, scratching for food almost like a chicken. It uses its feet to turn over branches or dried cow dung in search of beetles. It has been seen walking in shallow water at dusk, peering under plants, presumably in search of frogs. It feeds on dead livestock with vultures. The crested caracara also eats dead or dying fish, and has brought small mud turtles to its nest. Crested caracaras also pirate food from weaker individuals, and rob fish from pelicans.

Widespread and common in the Neotropics. Population appears to be stable in the United States.