Crested Caracara

Caracara cheriway
Range Map

This confusing bird has traits that confound classification. It looks like a small eagle, behaves like a scavenging vulture, but has the bone structure of a falcon, which is where science classifies it (family Falconidae).

There are two species of caracara, both in the New World. One, Caracara plancus lives mostly south of the Amazon River in South America, and the other, Caracara cheriway lives north of the equator and has a range that includes parts of Texas and Arizona.

Modern science recognises three subspecies of Crested Caracara:

  • C. c. pallidus lives on Islands off western Mexico.
  • C. c. audubonii lives in the southern USA and south to Panama and Cuba.
  • C. c. cheriway lives in Panama and northern South America to Peru, Brazil, Aruba and Trinidad.

So far, I’ve only been able to photograph this species on the Texas gulf coast. But I’ve frequently seen them on the roadsides of southern Texas and sometimes in Arizona. Roadside birds are wary of vehicles coming to a stop near them, and attempting to capture images is not practical. My favorite meetings took place one afternoon at Aransas NWR when I was visiting the Aransas Wildlife Tower, and having satisfactorily fed themselves, Crested Caracaras, Turkey Vultures, and Black Vultures settled in to roost at eye-level on the nearby tree-tops.

18 Photos

Click map markers to reveal further information