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Crested caracara2.jpg
Crested caracara
Caracara cheriway
Scientific classification
Kingdom Information
Domain Eukaryota
Kingdom Animalia
Subkingdom Bilateria
Branch Deuterostomia
Phylum Information
Phylum Chordata
Sub-phylum Vertebrata
Infraphylum Gnathostomata
Class Information
Superclass Tetrapoda
Class Aves
Sub-class Neornithes
Infra-class Neoaves
Order Information
Superorder Passerimorphae
Order Accipitriformes
Infraorder Falconides
Family Information
Family Falconidae
Sub-family Polyborinae
Genus Information
Genera Caracara
Population statistics

Caracara or carrion hawk refers to several species of predatory birds found primarily in Latin America. Despite being slow aerial fliers, and often on the ground as scavengers, caracaras have been placed in the family Falconidae alongside true falcons.


The origin of the name "caracara" is uncertain; it may be a Spanish or Portuguese corruption of a Tupi word[1] based on the sound the bird makes. The alternate scientific name Polyborus is from the Greek, referring to the bird's seemingly gluttonous appetite.[2]


Caracaras range in size from 16 to 24 inches, with a wingspan up to four feet. The face in most species is bare of feathers, with the skin red in color. A crest of feathers is present on the back of the head, and in several species this crest has the appearance of a bold, black "cap". When on the ground caracaras move about on long legs, and despite being smaller than vultures, their aggressive nature allows them to take over a carcass. In addition to carrion, the birds also take live prey when the opportunity presents itself, feeding on rodents, reptiles, insects, and other small animals.


Caracaras are found throughout the Americas, ranging as far north as Florida and the southwestern United States, and as far south as Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. One species was endemic to Guadalupe Island off Mexico's Baja Peninsula, but became extinct due to man.


Caracaras build large nests of sticks in trees, large cacti, or on the ground. Up to three eggs are laid, incubating for 28–32 days before hatching. The fledgling period takes around three months before the young fly.