Crested Caracara

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Image:Caracara.jpg

Common Name: Crested Caracara
Scientific Name: Caracara cheriway

Size: 19–23 inches (49–58 cm); Wingspan: 42-51 inches (107-130 cm)

Habitat: The Americas; a resident in Cuba, northern South America (south to northern Peru and northern Amazonian Brazil) and most of Central America and Mexico, just reaching the southernmost parts of the United States, including Florida, where it is resident. It can also be in the Southern Caribbean (Curaçao and Bonaire).

They typically live in lowlands but can live to mid-elevation in the Northern Andes. The species is most common in cattle ranches with scattered trees, shelterbelts and small woods, as long as there is a somewhat limited human presence. They can also be found in other varieties of agricultural land, as well as prairies, coastal woodlands (including mangroves), coconuts plantations, scrub along beach dunes and open uplands.

Status: Least Concern to Threatened. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals. Populations in the United States have declined historically, but currently appear stable or slightly increasing. It is classified as "threatened" in Florida, but common and widespread throughout Neotropics.

Diet: Small mammals, amphibians, reptiles (snakes, lizards and small turtles), fish, crabs, insects, their larvae, earthworms, shellfish and young birds.

They hunt alone, in pairs or family parties of 3–5 birds. Caracaras, are one of the few raptors that hunts on foot, often turning over branches and cow dung to reach food. In addition to hunting its own food on the ground, the northern caracara will steal from other birds, including vultures, other hawks, pelicans, ibises and spoonbills.

Nesting: The adult has a black body, wings, crest and crown. The neck, rump, and conspicuous wing patches are white, and the tail is white with black barring and a broad terminal band. The breast is white, finely barred with black. The bill is thick, grey and hooked, and the legs are yellow. The cere and facial skin are deep yellow to orange-red depending on age and mood. Sexes are similar, but immature birds are browner, have a buff neck and throat, a pale breast streaked/mottled with brown, greyish-white legs and greyish or dull pinkish-purple facial skin and cere.

The nesting season is from December to May and is a bit earlier the closer the birds live to the tropics. They build large stick nests in trees such as mesquites and palms, cacti, or on the ground as a last resort. The nests are bulky and untidy; often made of grasses, sticks and hay, spotted with much animal matter. The female lays 2 to 3 pinkish-brown eggs with darker blotches, which are incubated for 28–32 days.

Cool Facts: It is also known as the Northern Crested Caracara and the Mexican Eagle. Although the Caracara looks like a long-legged hawk and associates with vultures, the Crested Caracara is actually closer to the Falcon family and is lumped within it.

The Northern Caracara can be identified from the Southern Caracara by their less extensive and more spotty barring to the chest, more uniform blackish scapulars (brownish and often lightly mottled/barred in the southern), and blackish lower back (pale with dark barring in the southern).

The state of 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 point in time, Florida and the rest of the Gulf Coast was covered in an oak savanna. As temperatures increased, the savanna between Florida and Texas disappeared. Caracaras were able to survive in the prairies of central Florida as well as in the marshes along the St. Johns River. Cabbage palmettos are a preferred nesting site, although they will also nest in southern live oaks. 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. They are currently most common in DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Okeechobee and Osceola counties. Loss of adequate habitat caused the Florida caracara population to decline, and it was listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume III: Hawks of the New World

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