AppearanceThe Northern Caracara has a length of 49–58 cm , a wingspan of 120 cm , and weighs 1,050–1,300 g . It is broad-winged and long-tailed. It also has long legs and frequently walks and runs on the ground. It is very cross-shaped in flight. The adult has a black body, wings, crest and crown. The neck, rump, and conspicuous wing patches are white, and the tail is white with black barring and a broad terminal band. The breast is white, finely barred with black. The bill is thick, grey and hooked, and the legs are yellow. The cere and facial skin are deep yellow to orange-red depending on age and mood. Sexes are similar, but immature birds browner, have a buff neck and throat, a pale breast streaked/mottled with brown, greyish-white legs and greyish or dull pinkish-purple facial skin and cere. The voice of this species is a low rattle.
Adults can be separated from the similar Southern Caracara by their less extensive and more spotty barring to the chest, more uniform blackish scapulars , and blackish lower back . Individuals showing intermediate features are known from the small area of contact in north-central Brazil, but intergradation between the two species is generally limited.
DistributionThe Northern Caracara is a resident in Cuba, northern South America and most of Central America and Mexico, just reaching the southernmost parts of the United States, including Florida, where it is resident but listed as threatened. There have been reports of the Crested Caracara as far north as San Francisco, California. and most recently near . South of the US border, it is generally common. This is a bird of open and semi-open country.
BehaviorThe Northern Caracara is an omnivorous scavenger, favoring carrion, but will also eat small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crabs, insects, earthworms, and young birds. In addition to hunting its own food on the ground, the Northern Caracara will steal from other birds. Northern Caracaras build large stick nests in trees such as mesquites and palms, cacti, or on the ground as a last resort. It lays 2 to 3 pinkish-brown eggs with darker blotches, which are incubated for 28–32 days.
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