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 vultures.
 
Caracaras are birds of prey in the family Falconidae. They are traditionally placed in subfamily Polyborinae with the forest  falcons, but are sometimes considered to constitute their order.
 
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.
 
 
Adult (sexes similar)

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.
 

 
Immature
 

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 falconet.
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.
Whilst 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 falcons.
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 plancus)
†Guadalupe caracara (Caracara lutosa) – extinct (1900 or 1903)
†Bahaman caracara (Caracara creightoni) – prehistoric, may belong in C. latebrosus.
†Puerto Rican caracara (Caracara latebrosus) – prehistoric.
†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 population.
 
Photos by John Spencer
Data by Wikipedia
 

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