Caracara cheriway Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
The crested caracara is a large raptor with a crest, naked face, heavy bill, elongate neck, and long legs. Both sexes look alike. The tail is banded with white and black and has a broad dark terminal band. The legs and feet are deep yellow.
The crested caracara occurs throughout most of South America. The northern limit of its distribution is the southern USA, including Florida. The current breeding range of the caracara in Florida is the south-central prairie region.
The crested caracara is a bird of open habitats and its distribution corresponds closely to the original location of the major prairie systems in the state, which have largely been converted to pasture. Today, the majority (82%) of breeding caracaras are found on large private cattle ranches with improved pastures.
Currently there are an estimated 400-500 individuals in Florida of which there are probably 150 pairs, but no systematic, comprehensive surveys have been done.
Caracara’s are strong fliers and appear eagle-like in flight, however they do not soar. They are often seen perched on fence posts, utility poles, and snags that provide good view of the surrounding area. When driving the Florida Turnpike you may see them feeding on a carcass beside the road. They forage extensively on the ground, scratching and digging, and will flip over “cow patties” in search of insects. Their diet includes carrion as well as wide variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey. Unlike other raptors they carry food items in beaks rather than in talons while in flight.
The crested caracara received federal listing in 1987 and is currently on the state’s list of threatened and endangered species.
top of page | back to birds