Crested Caracara

Update of the article on 9/21/2013

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Profile

The crested caracara is a bird of prey related to falcons living in North and South America. One of the distinguishing features of caracaras in general is the bright red, orange, or yellow area on the head and larger part of the beak. These birds also have a black cap on the top of their head, which you may notice has a “tail” that extends a short way down the back of the bird’s neck. They have a white neck which gradually mixes in a speckled pattern to turn into the black that the lower part of its body is. All adult crested caracaras have a banded upper tail which can be used to tell this bird apart from others. Unlike many birds of prey, the caracara has long yellow legs. Most other raptors have much shorter legs. One last distinguishing feature I would like to tell you about goes back to this bird’s beak. The end part, where the beak is not orange, actually has a bluish tint to it. The majority of other birds have yellow, black, or orange beaks, but the crested caracara has a white beak with some blue. Male and female caracaras look alike as far as all of the coloring I just talked about.

There are currently nine species of caracara and one more that is extinct. The crested caracara (caracara cheriway) is actually called the northern crested caracara, and, you guessed it, there is a southern caracara. Most places just call it the crested caracara, and that is what I will call it here.

The caracara is the national bird of Mexico, and it is sometimes even called the Mexican Eagle, despite not being an actual eagle.

Size

These birds are about in the middle of the size range for raptors. The adults in this species do not have a very large size range. They range from 19 inches (49 cm) to 23 inches (58 cm) in length. Their wingspan, as with all birds, is much larger than their length. In this case, it is more than twice as large! Crested caracara wingspans are usually about four feet (1.2 meters). These birds also have a very small range when it comes to their weight, and they also have a surprisingly small weight for their size. As adults, these raptors weight between 2.3 and 2.9 pounds (1050-1300 grams).

Diet

Crested caracaras, most caracaras in fact, are not picky eaters, but they do have a favorite food. That is carrion. They will sometimes catch live prey to eat, and they will occasionally even eat plant matter! The live prey that these birds eat is normally not very large. These prey include turtles, fish, small mammals, insects, snakes, frogs, small birds, and eggs. When there is larger prey available, caracaras will sometimes pair up to capture the animal. These birds have often been observed eating with vultures. This is not surprising as both of them love carrion.

Habitat and range

As you can tell in the range map below, crested caracaras live in North, Central, and South America. They even live a little bit in the United States in both Florida and Texas. They also inhabit all of Central America, most of Mexico, Cuba, and the northern third or so of South America. Unlike many birds that live in South America, caracaras prefer to live in open areas, meaning they do not like the rainforest. Prairies and farms are common places to find these birds. Normally crested caracaras live in areas where they can spread out, as they like to have large territories.

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There is one place that these birds live that is not shown on the map, most likely because they are not native there. This place is Jamaica.

Status and threats

As recently as 2009, the IUCN Redlist assessed the crested caracara to be Least Concern. Although their population has declined in the past, their large range and still large population are enough to keep them at Least Concern instead of Vulnerable. In fact, their population is thought to be increasing right now. As with many animals, habitat loss and destruction are the major threats. Development of suitable habitats to form farms or industrial areas really hurt the crested caracara’s population. Because their habitat has been industrialized, the amount of vehicle traffic has increased. This has made it more likely for them to get hit by cars.

Reproduction

Like many raptors, crested caracaras stay with their mates for life. The breeding season of these birds runs from January to March. Most birds in the falcon family do not build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs on ledges, in crevices, or in other bird’s abandoned nests. Crested caracaras are different as they do make nests. These are usually made in trees or on top of cactuses. That sure seems like a comfortable place to grow up. Not.

The average clutch size for these birds is two to three eggs. It takes about 32 days for them to hatch. During this time, both of the parents sit on the eggs to keep them warm. As with most baby birds, northern crested caracara chicks are covered with a white down when they are born. There is a small exception to this, though. As the adults do, the young caracaras have a black patch on tom of their head. The young usually stay in the nest until they are at least eight weeks old, as this is when they first learn to fly. Sometimes they can still be seen with their parent for another three months!

In some occurances, a pair of caracaras may have two broods in one year. Although this is not normal, it is not uncommon either. It is more likely that this willl happen if something happened to the first brood. In the wild, these birds can live up to 26 years.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Crested caracara – MAULI
  • Crested caracara range – MPF
  • Mystery animal – ZeWrestler
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