The Crested Caracara, (Polyborus plancus), commonly known as the Mexican Eagle, is actually part of the order Falconidae, although it doesn’t look at all like a falcon. It is currently placed in the Polyborinae Genus grouped with Forest Falcons. Note, there is much discussion on its classification (sometimes given the Latin name Caracara cheriway) First described in 1777 by JF Miller, an English Botanist, it currently has 4 recognized subspecies although this is much disputed.
The Crested Caracara is found throughout South and Central America, but is only found in a few Southern states of the US: Texas, Arizona and California. Interestingly there is a small, separated population in Florida. It is non-migratory and is resident throughout its range.
Typically easy to find in its range, the Crested Caracara is a bird of open pastures and semi-arid expanses but has been found in marshland. Typically a lowland species, its range seems to be expanding and is now found more and more commonly at higher altitudes.
A scavenger, the Caracara is often found around carcasses with vultures but will also eat live prey including many reptiles and amphibians. It is also known to raid the nests of colonial nesters such as herons and egrets and is often piratic, chasing many species to drop their prey including other caracaras. Breeding season is variable depending on location but in the US it typically runs from January to September and is so long that two clutches a year is often the norm. It’s nest is a bare collection of sticks with no lining and is often found in palms and bushes, although ground nests are not uncommon. Two eggs are laid with incubation by both parents lasting a month or more, and the chicks spend up to 3 months in the nest before fledging.
A very distinctive raptor with a distinctive shape – long legs and neck, a white face with a black cap and a prominent patch of red skin between a bluish gray beak and eyes. It has a white breast with fine barring and a black belly, back and wings. The tail is white and very finely barred. In flight, the white/barred wing patches from the wrists to the wing tips are very distinctive. The sexes are similar and the call is a loud “wick-wick-wick-keerr."
·A group of Caracaras is called a bazaar, an eyrie, a tower, a stooping up or a ringing out.
·While good flyers, Caracaras like to walk and often form part of ground flocks up to 60 individuals strong. They often catch prey on the ground.
·Crested Caracaras are a widespread stable population numbering around 2 million individuals.
·Crested Caracara is the national bird in some parts of Mexico, (shared with the Golden Eagle), and is believed to be the bird featured on the flags of the Aztecs.
·When calling, they often throw their heads way back, and this is known as the head throwback display.