Raptor Identification

Caracara plancus

Crested Cara

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: Unkown
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation
Group: Falcon
Size: L 21-24″ / WS 47-52″


Crested Caracara is a distinctive raptor, often seen with Turkey Vultures and White-tailed Hawks in cattle country and mesquite grasslands of South Texas, ranging south to northern South America. It is also found in Arizona (mainly in Pima CO), south-central Florida, and is comfortable around developed areas with appropriate open space as much as remote areas. Its striking plumage, shape, and long legs make it easy to pick out among the vultures with which they are often associated. Crested Caracara often occurs in small groups concentrating around carrion and roadkill. They also hunt live prey, including mice, insects, reptiles, and birds.

Taxonomically, Crested Caracara is considered a falcon, but it is very different in structure from other North American falcons, and the association sometimes confuses birders. It is a good flier, but it walks as much as it flies and lacks the pointed wings, sleek profile, and direct pursuits hunting style of other falcons. Caracara perches on power poles and fence posts and is often seen leaning into strong winds more than standing upright. Caracara calls with a low-pitched rattle or raven-esque croaking klak, klak, klak; greeaaaaa.


  • Large, but smaller than vultures.
  • Distinct long, narrow, squared-off wings, long tail, and a long-necked appearance.
  • When perched, they appears big-headed, and ‘crest’ gives a square headed-profile
  • Large bill, used to tear carcasses apart.


  • Often flies near eye level, soars rarely on flat or bowed wings.
  • Flaps with steady, even-paces wing beats.
  • Highly maneuverable when chasing each other or other raptors.


  • Three age classes: Adult, 1st-year, and sub-adult (2nd-year). Males and females are indistinguishable. Attains adult appearance in two years. Eye color changes from brownish to yellowish over a few years.
  • Adults are blackish overall with bold, clean white throat, upper breast, and cheeks, whitish barred lower chest, and hindneck. Facial skin is vibrant orange-red, becoming yellowish when excited; legs are yellow. Their tail is white and finely barred, with a wide, black tip. Outer primaries are whitish but similar in all ages.
  • 1st-years have buffy, dark-streaked breasts and dark brown instead of black plumage. Facial skin is pale pinkish. The tail is white but more coarsely barred than adult, with a dark tip. Legs are pale bluish.
  • 2nd-year is similar to the adult, but browner on top and often with orange-yellow facial skin. The tail is adult-like.

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