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Crested Caracara

Polyborus plancus audubonii

Listing Status

  • Federal Status: Threatened
  • FL Status: Federally-designated Threatened
  • FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
  • IUCN Status: Not ranked


Audubon’s crest caracara is a large species of raptor that can reach a body length of 19.7-25.2 inches (50-64 centimeters).  The caracara has a dark brown-black belly, wings, back, and crown; and a white lower belly, head, and throat.  The caracara also has a bluish-gray to light bluish dark yellow to white bill, red cere (facial skin), and a white tail with dark crossbars (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d., J. Rodgers pers. comm. 2011).

About the size of an osprey, this boldly patterned raptor has a crest, naked face, heavy bill and longish neck and legs.


The diet of Audubon’s crest caracara primarily consists of carrion (dead animal carcass), amphibians, reptiles, mammals; eggs; and other birds (Morrison 1996).

Little is known about the reproduction of the caracara.  Eggs from caracaras in Florida have been found from September to April, with the breeding season seeming to peak from January to March.  Nests are constructed with sticks, dry weed stalks, and long and narrow segments of vine.  The average clutch size is two eggs, with juveniles reaching adult size at five weeks of age, and  fledging occurring at seven to eight weeks old (Layne 1996). 

Habitat and Distribution

Audubon's Crested Caracara Map

Audubon's crested caracara inhabits wet prairies with cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto).  It may also be found in wooded areas with saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), cypress (Taxodium spp), and scrub oaks (Quercus geminate, Q. minima, Q. pumila) (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d.).  Caracaras will also inhabit pastures (J. Rodgers pers comm. 2011).  Audubon's crested caracara is found throughout south central Florida, and also occurs in Texas, Arkansas, Mexico, Cuba, and Panama (J. Rodgers pers. comm. 2011).


The main threat to the Audubon’s crested caracara is habitat loss.  The main cause of habitat loss includes modification for urban development and agriculture.  Due to its isolation and specific habitat dependence, an environmental catastrophe could cause a significant decline in the caracara’s population.  A disproportionate sex ratio could occur in an environmental catastrophe causing lower reproductive rates (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d.).  Traffic mortality will continue to be a threat to the species as the population of Florida continues to increase and more roads are constructed.  Illegal take from trapping is also a threat to crested caracaras (J. Rodgers pers. comm. 2011).

Conservation and Management

The Audubon’s crested caracara is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  It is also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

Federal Recovery Plan


Layne, J.N.. 1996.  Crested Caracara. Pages 197-210 in J.A. Rodgers, Jr., H.W. Kale II, and H.T. Smith (Eds.).  Rare and endangered biota of Florida, Vol. V: Birds. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

Morrison, Joan L. 1996. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Crested Caracara. Retrieved July 22,  2011, from All About Birds:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (n.d.). Audubon's Crested Caracara. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from South Florida Ecological Services Office: