Tropical falcon version of a vulture,
the Crested Caracara reaches the United States only in Arizona, Texas, and
Florida. It is a bird of open country, where it often is seen at carrion with
Caracaras are birds of prey in the
family Falconidae. They are traditionally placed in subfamily Polyborinae with the
but are sometimes considered to constitute their
The caracaras are found throughout
much of the Americas. The range of the Northern caracara extends as far north as
the states of Arizona, Texas, and Florida in the United States. In the Southern
Hemisphere, the striated caracara inhabits the Falkland Islands and Tierra del
Fuego, just off the coast of the southernmost tip of South
Large, long-legged raptor. Black
cap with short crest at back. Pale sides of back and neck. Bare red skin on
face. Black body. White tail with wide black tip. White patches at ends of dark
wings. Faint barring on upper back and breast.
Juvenile similar to adult, but tawny brown instead of black;
buffy, not white face; and with streaks, not
barring on neck.
A common subject of folklore and
legends throughout Central and South America, the Crested Caracara is sometimes
referred to as the "Mexican eagle." Although it looks like a long-legged hawk
and associates with vultures, the Crested Caracara is actually in the same
family as falcons.
Habitat is open country, including pastureland, cultivated areas and
semi-desert, both arid and moist habitats but more commonly in the former.
The caracaras are found throughout much of the Americas. The range of
the Northern caracara extends as far north as the states of Arizona, Texas, and
Florida in the United States. In the Southern Hemisphere, the striated caracara
inhabits the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego, just off the coast of the
southernmost tip of South America.
Confusion over classification
The genus Caracara Merrem 1826 was previously known as Polyborus Vieillot
1816. Hence the differing subfamily names Polyborinae or Caracarinae. In
addition, different authors give differing scopes to the subfamily: sometimes
including the forest falcons, laughing falcon, or spot-winged
Peters' Checklist in 1931 listed the caracaras in their own
subfamily, Polyborinae, containing Daptrius, Milvago, Phalcobœnus, and
Polyborus. Ibycter americanus is included as Daptrius americanus.
recognizing that "there are three major, deep divisions in the Falconidae" the
South American Classification Committee (SACC) of the American Ornithologists'
Union voted in 2007 to recognize two subfamilies: Herpetotherinae containing the
forest falcons; and Falconinae containing the caracaras and true
Based on recent research in molecular genetics, John Boyd places the
spot-winged falconet (Spiziapteryx) in Caracarinae, and the forest falcons in
Herpetotherinae. He also comments that "many of the caracaras are closely
related, and it would not be unreasonable to merge Ibycter, Milvago, and
Phalcoboenus into Daptrius".
Caracaras are an prehistoric race.
Two of the modern species are extinct, one was deliberately made
extinct by humans about 100 years ago (to the detriment of its island home).
Several prehistoric taxa are also known.
Northern caracara (Caracara
cheriway) aka Crested Caracara.
Southern caracara (Caracara
†Guadalupe caracara (Caracara lutosa) – extinct (1900 or
†Bahaman caracara (Caracara creightoni) – prehistoric, may belong in C.
†Puerto Rican caracara (Caracara latebrosus) –
†Terrestrial caracara (Caracara tellustris) – prehistoric.
The fossil record proves the long history of the mainland "crested
caracaras". Remains of northern caracaras, slightly larger than those of modern
times but otherwise identical, were found in the famous La Brea Tar Pits. In
addition, the Guadalupe caracara may derive from an already-distinct population
of western Mexico that subsequently was displaced by the main continental
Photos by John Spencer
Data by Wikipedia
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