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Crested Caracara

This bird has a unique-looking bill, that is easy to recognize.

Though rather regal in appearance, the Crested Caracara happily consumes carrion, and the incongruity of this may strike some people as though they were watching someone in a tuxedo digging through a dumpster. Crested Caracaras walk somewhat slowly, but well, on their long legs, and they seldom fly at very high altitudes.

Young Crested Caracaras seem particularly prone to being hit by vehicles, though this happens less frequently with adults. While nest predation does occur, adults are seldom captured by predators. The record age for a wild Crested Caracara is 9 years.


Description of the Crested Caracara


The Crested Caracara is a large-headed, long-legged, long-necked raptor with a shaggy black cap, white neck, dark brown body and wings, and barred black and white tail. It has reddish facial skin around its bill.  Length: 23 in.  Wingspan: 49 in.

Visit the Bent Life History for additional information.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adults but paler brown.


Open prairies and rangeland.


Carrion and a variety of small animals.

Crested Caracara


Forages by hunting in flight or by scavenging for roadkills.


Crested Caracaras are resident in parts of Texas, Florida, and Arizona, as well as south to South America.

Fun Facts

With its scavenging habits and mostly south-of-the-border range, the Crested Caracara is often called the Mexican Buzzard. Another common and more flattering name is the Mexican Eagle.

Crested Caracara pairs typically remain together year-round.


The calls consists of a “wuck” note or a ratttle.


Similar Species

  • Crested Caracaras are unmistakable.


The nest is a large structure of sticks and plant materials placed in the top of a tree, shrub, or large cactus.

Number: 2-3.
Color: Light brown with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 30 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) 42-48 days after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Crested Caracara

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Crested Caracara – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.

now Crested Caracara – Caracara plancus

Audubon’s caracara is a northern race of a South American species that reaches its northern limits in Arizona, Texas, and Florida. It is rare in Arizona but fairly common in parts of Texas and Florida. It is locally known as the “Mexican eagle”, or “Mexican buzzard”, both appropriate names, as it somewhat resembles an eagle in its manner of flight and partially resembles a vulture in its feeding habits.

In Florida it is restricted mainly to the open prairie regions in the center of the State; its center of abundance seems to be on the great Kissimmee Prairie, north of Lake Okeechobee, but it may be found anywhere that similar prairies exist. The Kissimmee Prairie is a large, low, flat, grassy plain, drained by the Kissimmee River and a few small streams; it is dotted with numerous shallow ponds and sloughs, and, especially near the river, there are many small hammocks of large live oaks and cabbage palmettos. Scattered all over the prairie are clumps of saw palmetto, a few scrubby oaks, numerous solitary cabbage palmettos, and an occasional small clump of cypress. In this characteristic home of the caracara, its most conspicuous neighbors are the sandhill crane, nesting in the shallow ponds and sloughs, and the Florida races of the red-shouldered hawk and barred owl, which nest in nearly every hammock. The caracara is not a woodland bird and is seldom seen in the pines and still more rarely in the cypress country.

In Texas its haunts are similar, according to George Finlay Simmons (1925), “open pasturelands and prairies, generally where dotted by oak mottes or crossed by creeks and arroyos narrowly skirted with trees. Mesquite forests typical of the Rio Grande Coastal Plain from Austin southward. Open divides in the wooded mountainous country. Prefers prairies to wooded country, never breeding in tall trees in wooded bottoms. Wanders along streams into the wooded hills.”

We found it very rare in southern Arizona, where we saw only one flying across the Santa Cruz River south of Tucson.

Nesting: We found several nests in the Kissimmee Prairie region near Bassinger, Fla., during the latter part of March. The nests are often so well concealed in the thick tops of the cabbage palmettos that they are very hard to see. One pair evidently had a nest in a small palmetto hammock, as they hung around it for over an hour while I was hunting for the nest. There were numerous droppings and bits of down scattered about, and the birds were flying about, screaming and alighting in the trees near me; but, although I climbed to every likely-looking thick top, I could not locate the nest. Two nests containing young birds, two-thirds grown, were found on March 22, 1925. One was about 25 feet up in a cabbage palmetto on the edge of a live-oak hammock; the nest was barely visible among the green fans in the thick top, resting on the flatter stems; I had to cut away some of the hanging fans before I could reach into it, and only with considerable difficulty even then. It was a bulky structure, loosely made of slender twigs, mainly the fruiting clusters of the palmetto, and was lined with fine bits of the same material. The other was a similar nest, about 30 feet up in the top of a slender, solitary palmetto standing out in an open space; it also held young birds. All other nests seen were singularly located in cabbage palmettos, except one; this was only 15 feet from the ground on a branch of a live oak standing in an open space near a stream; it was made of small sticks.

Frederic H. Kennard found a caracara’s nest in the top of a large solitary pine between Fort Myers and Inunokalce, Fla. (p1. 22). S. A. Grimes has sent me some photographs (p1. 23) of a nest that he found on the Kissimmee Prairie on February 19, 1934; it was located only 7 feet from the ground in a vine-covered clump of saw palmetto (Serenoa serndata), a very unusual site. The following year, the nest was built 25 feet up in a cabbage palmetto a short distance away. W. A. Smith sent me a photograph of a nest 7 feet up in an oak bush.

Donald J. Nicholson (1929) says that “the caracara is one of the earliest of the raptors to begin nesting in Florida. It begins sometimes early in December to lay eggs. But the height of the nesting activity is in January and February and, even as late as April, nests with eggs are to be found.” He says elsewhere (1928) that out of 40 or 50 nests that he has seen, only three were built in oaks and one in a pine; all the others were in cabbage palmettos. “Their nests are made of green tough bushes, broken oft by the birds, and sometimes briars, piled up in a heap and trampled down until quite a decent hollow is made. Usually the nests are unlined, but at times a few green leaves or pieces of grape-vines arc placed in the hollow. Consequently the eggs rest upon a crude mass of rough, dried stems of bushes.”

Capt. R. D. Camp told us in 1923 that the caracara was not so common in Cameron County, Tex., as it used to be. He showed us only one nest, from which he had taken a set of eggs earlier in the season. It was about 8 feet from the ground in the crotch of a Spanishdagger yucca in open country.

Dr. James C. Merrill (1878) and George B. Sennett (1878 and 1879) both found this species common there at that time. The latter refers to two quite different nests. One “rested on the branches of a sapling only about nine or ten feet from the ground. This small tree was one of a clump which stood under larger trees, and was so slender that great care had to be taken not to shake out the eggs in getting them.” Near Lomita, in the taller growth of timber, “two eggs were taken from a nest, forty feet high, in a hack-berry tree.”

Herbert W. Brandt says in his notes: “Judging from past accounts, the caracara is on the rapid decline in southern Texas. On four trips from San Antonio to the coast we saw only one bird, where formerly, the ranchers told us, they were plentiful. We found a few breeding on the King Ranch, making their abode about the various windmills. These birds always have the male lookout stationed conspicuously near the nest, and he flushes when the intruder is still some distance away. Every nest we examined was composed entirely of broomweed, and was usually deep, resembling an inverted Mexican hat. The nests are often very bulky and show successive layers. Two-thirds of the sets observed consisted of three eggs, while the remainder numbered two. An interesting nest was found in a huisache tree standing alone in the center of a large, wet, grassy meadow. In the tree was a caracara’s nest and ~0 nests of the great tailed grackle, seven of which were crowded under that of the caracara.”

Adolph E. Schutze (1904) writes, referring to central Texas:

The nest is usually placed in the upright branches of an elm or oak, eight to fifty feet above the ground. Of the thirty-five nests that I have so far found, two-thirds are yearly reoccupied, but whether by the same pair of birds, I am unable to say. The birds are always careful in selecting a position where they are enabled to view the entire surrounding country with ease. When an intruder approaches the parent immediately leaves without the slightest noise and is lost to view for a time. After a short while it returns with its mate and both alight on some nearby tree and watch the proceedings with much interest. * * * Of the thirty-five nests that have come under my observation, thirty were composed solely of broomweed and without a lining, two were built of broomweed and small briars, while the remaining three were built of various substances, such as corn husks, small sticks, broomweed, mesquite twigs and the like. Sometimes old nests of hawks are appropriated, and to these are added a few broom straws, or weeds.

In the desert regions of southern Arizona and Mexico, the caracara sometimes nests in the branches of the giant cactus. It has been said to nest on cliffs. The nests are said to be used for several years in succession, new material being added each season until they become very large.

Eggs: Audubon’s caracara lays two or three eggs, oftener two and very rarely four. These are usually ovate to oval in shape, and the shell is smooth or finely granulated. The ground color, which is usually mostly concealed, is white, creamy white, or pinkish white. Oftener the entire shell is washed or clouded with “light ochraceousbuff”, “vinaceous-cinnamon”, or “vinaceous-russet”; such eggs are often otherwise unmarked. Usually the ground color, whether light or dark, is largely concealed by irregular blotches, scrawls, splashes, or spots of darker browns, “bay”, “chestnut-brown”, or “burnt umber.” Some eggs with a light ground color are openly spotted, or blotched, with lighter browns, “Kaiser brown”, “hazel”, or “russet” in pretty patterns. Very rarely an egg is nearly immaculate. The measurements of 57 eggs average 59.4 by 46.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 74.5 by 54.5, 53.8 by 44.5, and 56 by 43.5 millimeters.

Young: Incubation lasts for about 28 days and is shared by both sexes. Ordinarily only one brood is raised in a season, but, if the eggs are taken, a second, or even a third, set may be laid. Joseph C. Howell, however, writes to me of an exceptional case of two broods being raised; he says: “On December 27, 1931, Hugo Shroeder and I found a caracara nest with one young, which I estimated was at least 5 weeks old. Returning to this cabbage hammock on March 20, 1932, we observed the birds remodeling the nest. On April 7 the nest held two eggs. This is the only instance I am aware of in which a pair of caracaras have raised two broods in a season. Moreover, this pair must have had a set of eggs in October.”

J. K. Strecker, Jr. (1894), writes: “I am told that the young Garacaras occupy the nest for two or three months after they are hatched, which, if so, shows a resemblance to the habits of the young of the Vultures while in the nest. However, although the young Vultures are fed by regurgitation, the young of the Caracara are fed in the same manner as other Falcons, i. e., with fresh meat, although I think that the adults feed quite freely on carrion.”

Plumages: The young caracara, in its natal down, is quite unique and rather pretty. It is completely covered with long, thick, soft down; the upper half of the head is dark, rich brown, “Mars brown” to “auburn”; a large spot on each shoulder, a smaller one on each thigh and one on the rump are “Mars brown” to “mummy brown”; elsewhere the color varies from “pinkish buff” to “pale pinkish buff.” A nestling 10 inches long is still mainly downy, but the juvenal plumage is appearing on the scapulars, middle of the back, flanks, and middle of the belly; the primaries are growing.

A larger nestling, nearly grown and nearly feathered, is still downy on the sides of the neck and center of the breast; the tail is just sprouting; the crown, occiput, and scapulars are clear “Natal brown”, some of the latter edged with “bay”; the feathers of the upper back are “bister” to “snuff brown”, with a large terminal wedge of pale buff and a median streak of “bister”; the wing coverts are “Natal brown”, edged with “snuff brown” and tipped with pale buff; the throat, sides of the head, neck, and upper breast are “cartridge buff” to “cinnamon-buff” and unspotted; the rest of the under parts are “Verona brown” to “snuff brown”, streaked with “cinnamon” or “cinnamon-buff”; the sprouting tail shows a color pattern like the adult tail, but it is barred and broadly tipped with sepia instead of black.

This juvenal plumage is worn until the following winter or spring, but the time at which the postjuvenal molt begins varies greatly, depending on the date on which the bird was hatched; this is very variable, owing to the prolonged nesting season. I have seen birds in full juvenal plumage in December, February, April, and May, the plumage being decidedly worn in many cases. But usually sometime between January and April a complete postjuvenal molt takes place; I have seen the beginning of this molt as early as January 14 and as late as February 25; and I have seen the molt nearly completed by April 14.

The body molt comes first, with the appearance of the spotted feathers on the breast, followed by the rest of the body feathers and then by the wings and tail. This molt produces what is probably a second-year, or subadult, plumage. it is like the adult plumage in pattern, breast spotted with small spots, upper back as in the adult, and abdominal region solidly dark; but the light areas are tinged with buff, not pure white as in the adult, and the dark areas are “warm sepia” or “bister”, instead of black. This plumage is worn for about a year, or until the following winter; about December or January, or later, another complete molt occurs, which produces the black-and-white adult plumage. Adults apparently have their complete annual molt later in the winter, or even early in the spring. Some adult males that I have seen are only beginning to molt in March; the females may molt even later.

Food: The caracara shares with the vultures the habit of feeding on carrion, which probably constitutes a large portion of its food. These birds often gather about the slaughterhouses in large numbers with the vultures, to feed on the offal that is thrown out. They also feed on any dead mammal, large or small, bird, or reptile that they can find. They are worthy of protection as good scavengers, as well as destroyers of many harmful rodents and insects, as they hunt and kill many small animals. The following have been recorded in their food: Rabbits, skunks, prairie dogs, opossums, rats, mice, squirrels, snakes, frogs, lizards, young alligators, turtles, crabs, crayfish, fishes, young birds, beetles, grasshoppers, maggots, and worms.

Bendire (1892) quotes William Lloyd as saying: “Although carrion feeding birds, they are very fond of live fish and frogs. I have seen them fishing repeatedly in Sonora, Mexico. In Concho County I have seen them hunting prairie dogs, in couples, and once showing a high degree of intelligence. One was hidden behind a tussock of grass while the other danced before a young lamb, trying to lead it from the place where its mother was grazing to where its companion was hidden. The ruse was nearly successful, as the lamb began to follow, but the darn, anxiously watching, finally called it back.”

Bendire himself “saw one of these birds engaged in quite an encounter with a good sized snake which had partly coiled itself about its neck, both bird and snake struggling for a few minutes at quite a lively rate. The Caracara had the best of the fight, however, and before I could get to the place, the bird was off with its quarry, the snake still squirming and twisting about in its talons.”

Dr. J. C. Merrill (1878) writes: “I have seen a Caracara chase a jackass-rabbit for some distance through open mesquite chaparral, and while they were in sight the bird kept within a few feet of the animal and constantly gained on it, in spite of its sharp turns and bounds. If one bird has caught a snake or field-mouse, its companions that may happen to see it at once pursue, and a chase follows very different from what is seen among true Vultures.”

Mr. Grimes sent me a photograph showing the shells of 43 mud turtles and a box tortoise, the head of a large snapping turtle, a small garfish, and the remains of a bass that he picked up in a few minutes around a caracara’s nest that held large young. Twelve heads of small turtles were found in the nest. I wrote to him that I was curious to know how the birds carried the turtles and how they extracted the meat. He responded by spending two hours in a blind near a nest and watching how it was done; he writes to me that he “saw the old birds make five trips to the nest with food for the young. Each of these times, and on three other occasions that I have seen food brought to the nest, the object was brought in the bill. Only one turtle was brought to the nest while I was watching. It was a 5-inch mud turtle, and was held by the edge of the shell, as the bird sailed in with it. The old caracara did not merely leave the turtle at the nest for the young (which were as large as the parent bird) to help themselves; but stayed there 35 minutes, removing the animal from its shell bit by bit and feeding the pieces to her offspring. At a distance of 100 feet I could plainly hear the bird’s mandibles clack against the turtle’s shell, as she held it down with her feet and strained and pulled at what it contained. After 35 minutes the old caracara turned the remains of the turtle over to the young birds.”

Behavior: The flight of the caracara is somewhat like that of the marsh hawk, with frequent turnings, risings, and failings, but swifter and more graceful, with rapid wing strokes followed by long periods of sailing. Mr. Schutze (1904) describes it as “very straight and rapid” and says: “On a hot summer’s day it can sometimes be seen circling high overhead after the manner of a hawk.” Dr. Thomas Barbour (1923) says that “the flight is crow-like, direct, fast and with heavy noisy flappings.”

The caracara is quite at home on the ground, where it spends considerable time hunting for its prey. We frequently saw one standing on the bank of a roadside ditch, probably looking for dead animals killed by speeding automobiles, or for fish thrown away by fishermen. Its long legs enable it to walk easily, or even run fast, as anyone knows who has chased a wing-tipped bird.

It is an aggressive bird in pursuit of food and is not afraid to attack even larger birds. I once saw a bald eagle rise from a marshy hammock with what looked like a marsh rabbit in its talons; a caracara, two vultures, and a lot of crows immediately gave chase; the caracara attacked the eagle in the air, plunging down upon it from above; but they all disappeared behind some trees, and we failed to see what happened. Walter B. Savary writes to me that he “saw a marsh hawk, with a mouse in its claws, trying to escape from three crows that were pursuing it in an endeavor to get the mouse. So close at last were the crows that the hawk let its prey drop; without checking its flight, the leading crow snatched up the mouse and continued on, to be at once followed by a caracara who, in turn, forced the crow to drop its prize.”

Major Bendire (1892) quotes Capt. B. F. Goss, as follows:

Brown Pelicans breed in great numbers on an island in the Laguna Madre, off the coast of Texas. When these birds were returning to their breeding ground, with pouches filled with fish, the Caracaras would attack them until they disgorged, and then alight and devour their stolen prey. These attacks were made from above, by suddenly darting down on the Pelicans with shrill screams and striking at them with their talons. 1 am not certain as to whether they caught any of their prey before it reached the ground. I saw this maneuver repeated a number of times by a pair of these birds that nested on this island and by others that came from the shore. They did not attack outgoing birds, but invariably waited for the incoming ones, and as soon as these were over land (so that the contents of their pouches should not fall in the water) they pounced on them.

Dr. Barbour (1923) has seen caracaras chase large birds and says that “Gundlach once saw one chase, tire out and kill a white Ibis.”

H. W. Brandt says, in his Texas notes, that “the abundant scissortailed flycatcher makes life miserable for these grand birds by attacking them every time they take to the wing. They often perch on the caracara’s back for a mile and leave a wake of pulled feathers.” W. Leon Dawson (1923) tells of one that was attacked by a shrike. Almost any small bird would probably drive one away from the vicinity of its nest, or at least attempt to do so.

W. J. Hoxie writes me that a pair he had in captivity became very tame; he says: “They lived contentedly in a large cage until I went to work on the railroad. A number of years after that, when the male was at the German Club, he knew me so well that, when he escaped and went into the neighboring woods, I called him down out of a tall pine tree and took him back to the club. Some years after that, when he was at the Casino in Isle of Hope, he made such a fuss when he saw me that I had to go and pacify him by scratching his head through the bars of his cage. He was then about 12 years old.”

Voice: The caracara is usually a very silent bird, except for a warning cry to its mate when its nest is threatened. Dr. Barbour (1923) says: “Gundlach notes that when frightened or irritated it gives a high-pitched shriek, but I believe that observation was made from Gundlach’s famous pet which he raised from the nest and kept for fifteen years. The Caracara habitually rests perching, usually in the very top of a high tree or on some steep hillock. Often in the morning, or before sundown, it throws back its head until it almost touches its shoulders and gives its high, cackling cry which gave rise to the Brazilian name of Caracara, the Cuban Caraira, and the less apt Argentine name of Carancho.”

Field marks: Audubon’s caracara is a well-marked bird. Its pose in flight is much like that of the bald eagle, having a much longer neck and tail and a slenderer form than most other hawks. Its color pattern is also distinctive, especially the head markings; the large white patch in the primaries and the white tail, broadly tipped with black, are both very conspicuous in flight and can be recognized at a long distance. Young birds are much browner than adults, but the pattern is very similar. At short range the eaglelike bill and the red face may be seen. While walking on the ground, it suggests to me a short-legged secretary bird.

Winter: Being a semitropical species, it is resident throughout the year over most of its range. There is probably some migration from the northern limits of its breeding range, for Dr. Merrill (1878) says that, in southern Texas, it is “more abundant in winter than in summer. This seems to be due to a partial migration, from the north, of birds in immature plumage, for the number of mature individuals does not seem to vary.

Range: Southern United States, Cuba, and Central America; nonmigratory.

The range of Audubon’s caracara extends north to Baja California (Santa Margarita Island and probably San Ignacio); southern Arizona (Tucson); central Texas (Sheffield, San Angelo, Mason, Waco, and probably Houston); and Florida (Manatee River, probably Enterprise, and probably Titusyille). East to Florida (probably Tituaville, St. Johns River, Deerfield Prairie, Fellsmere, St. Lucie, Fort Pierce, Immokalee, and Everglades); Cuba (Trinidad and Isle of Pines); Yucatan (Merida); and Panama (Tapia and Bugaba). South to Panama (Bugaba); Costa Rica (San Jose and Nicoya); Nicaragua (Chinandega); Guatemala (Escuintla, Duenas, and Finca El Cipres); Jalisco (Las Penas); and Nayarit (Las Marietas Island). West to Nayarit (Las Marietas Island and San Bias); southern Sinaloa (Esqulnapa); and Baja California (Cape San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, and Santa Margarita Island).

The typical race (P. c. cheriway) is found in South America ranging northward to meet auduboni in Central America. The line of contact is imperfectly known, and while specimens from southern parts of Central America approach the northern form in size, in color characters they are more nearly like typical cheri way.

Casual records: Occasional specimens (apparently wanderers from the breeding grounds) have been observed or collected in the northern part of Baja California, as follows: Near Calinali on April 7,1927; a pair at Santo Domingo; two seen in February on the upper Hardy River; a specimen collected and two others seen near Pilot Knob, Calif., on March 15, 1928. One was observed over a period of two weeks at Monterey, Calif., in February 1916. In Arizona one was shot by an Indian (date uncertain), and two others were reported as seen at Sacaton, while there also is an indefinite record from Oracle. A specimen was obtained at Fort Thorn, N. Mex., during the winter of 1856, and another was taken at Mesquite on May 4,1914. Although some authors have listed it as fairly common in Louisiana, the only definite record appears to be a specimen listed in the catalog of the National Museum as taken at Calcasieu Pass in 1854.

At one time the species apparently had a wider range in Florida, as its discovery by Audubon on November 24, 1831, was near St. Augustine, and in 1858 it was recorded from Enterprise. One was observed “at close range” at Pineycreek, N. C., on February 19, 1933, and one was found dead on the north shore of Lake Superior near Port Arthur, Ontario, on July 18, 1892.

Egg dates: Florida: 30 records, December 28 to April 7; 15 records, January 30 to February 28, indicating the height of the season.

Texas: 80 records, January 30 to June 4; 40 records, March 15 to April 18.

Mexico: 10 records, March 2 to August 10; 5 records, March 6 to May 10.


The history of this extinct species is a tragic story. It seems sad that such a unique and interesting species should be wiped out entirely; but it was a bad actor, and whenever a beast or bird interferes too much with human interests its days are numbered, unless it proves more than a match for its human enemies, as does the crow. This bird was not endowed with sufficient sagacity to survive, and was too easily exterminated in its limited range.

This interesting species was discovered by Dr. Edward Palmer, when he visited Guadalupe Island in 1875. The “quelelis”, as these birds were called by the inhabitants, were then abundant on every part of the island, in spite of the fact that hundreds of them had been destroyed by the inhabitants, both with poison and firearms, without any noticeable diminution in their numbers.

Ten years later, when Dr. Walter E. Bryant visited the island, the number of these birds had decreased very materially. He (1887) writes:

In January, 1885, during a two days’ excursion about the central part of the island, but four “Quelelis” were seen. By 1886 their number had been reduced by more than a score by the island agent, who never missed an opportunity to kill one. Arriving on the island in the summer time, when the birds came to the shallow pools to drink, the agent would lie in wait behind a boulder and pick them off with a rifle. The birds, if missed, heeding not the shot, or, if but slightly wounded, not realizing the danger, remained near, making certain the destruction of all that came to drink at the fatal spring.

During my rambles I frequently came upon the weather-beaten carcasses of “Quelelis” lying where they had fallen. In one place, four were found lying dead together.

Later (1889) he says:

So effective has been the work of extermination carried on against this bird that Dr. Edward Palmer who first discovered them in 1875, says that he visited the island this year (1889) and did not see a single individual. He tells me that where he landed, fourteen year ago, the “quelelis’, as they are known there, were so numerous and bold that men were obliged to stand over the angora goats with sticks to protect them from attack, particularly the kids, which were not defended by their mothers. The short-haired kind will drive off the birds, so Dr. Palmer says, from his observation. Now that man has abandoned the island I cherish the hope that a pair at least may still be living, and that some future explorer may succeed in finding the unknown eggs, and give us an account of the nesting habits of this peculiar insular species.

Four were reported seen by some goat hunters in 1896, Henry B. Kaeding (1905) saw one on March 22, 1897, and Rollo H. Beck secured 9 out of 11 caracaras that flew over him on December 1, 1900; he says in a letter to Clinton G. Abbott (1933): “The 11 birds were all that were seen, but judging by their tameness and the short time that I was on the island, I assumed that they must be abundant.” This is the last record we have of birds being seen by a competent ornithologist. W. W. Brown and H. W. Marsden spent two months on Guadalupe Island in 1906; “the island was ransacked from end to end, but no trace of the caracara could be found. Goats were killed and left at various points on the island, especially upon the high, open tableland, where the caracaras, had there been any, must have detected them, but nothing came to any of the many carcasses that were thus exposed” (Thayer and Bangs, 1908).

The “dark colored birds” seen by Capt. Charles E. Davis in 1913, reported by Harry S. Swarth (1913), must have been something else, perhaps immature gulls. Mr. Abbott (1933) has published an interesting paper on the closing history of this bird and the histories of existing specimens. He found a total of 37 recorded specimens, of which he was able to locate 34; of these, 14 skins and one skeleton are in the United States National Museum.

Nesting: Very little is known about the nesting habits of the Guadalupe caracara, and hardly anything that is really authentic. H. Kirke Swann (1925) writes: “Curiously enough, although the nests must have been common thirty or forty years ago, no eggs appear to have been preserved except the single one in my own collection. This oological rarity was taken on the island by W. More on April 17th, 1897. The nest was a huge affair of sticks on the top of a pile of rubbish and cacti. Only two pairs of birds were seen and the 9 of this pair was shot.”

The Mexicans. told Dr. Bryant (1887) “that a cliff was always chosen for a nesting place, thus making their nests difficult to find and still more difficult of access.”

Eggs: The egg in the Swami collection is probably authentic. He says of it: “The egg resembles a pale egg of P. cheriway auduboni, but is rather smaller; size 55 by 43 mm. It has a whitish ground obscured by heavy spotting and blotching of dark reddish brown. This egg is figured on the plate accompanying pt. I.”

Charles E. Doe has an egg in his collection, which appears to be genuine; it was taken on Guadalupe Island on “3: 4: 80” and measures 67 by 50 millimeters. Mr. Doe describes it as a light-colored egg, much like figure 4 on plate 11 in Bendire’s (1892) work. No nest description came with it.

Plumages: Robert Ridgway (1876) has described the plumages of the Guadalupe caracara very satisfactorily. Of the downy young, he says: “Four young birds taken from the same nest differ remarkably in size and general development, the smallest being apparently just hatched, while the largest is nearly one-third grown, with well developed feathers in the wings and tail. The other specimens were intermediate.” One of these, which I have examined, looks much like a young Audubon’s caracara. It is covered with thick down, “chamois” to “cream-buff” in color; the pileuin and a large patch on each scapular region, extending over the upper side of the wing, are “snuff brown” to “sayal brown.”

Mr. Ridgway (1887) describes the immature bird, as follows: “Quills, tail, tail-coverts, head, and lesser wing-coverts much as in adult; rest of plumage more or less distinctly striped with dull brown and dirty brownish white or dull huffy, the former prevailing, and sometimes nearly uniform on upper parts.”

Food: Like other caracaras, the Guadalupe bird was largely a carrion feeder. Wherever the carcass of any animal or bird was left in the open, these birds were sure to gather. Dr. Palmer (Ridgway, 1876) says: “Besides the principal sources of food-supply already indicated (see below), the birds have other means of subsistence. They eat small birds, mice, shell-fish, worms, and insects. To ‘procure the latter, they resort to plowed fields, where they scratch the ground almost like domestic fowls.” Dr. Bryant (1887) writes: “Their food during the season of caterpillars consists almost entirely of these 1arvae, with a slight variation afforded by occasional beetles and crickets. Whenever opportunity offers they are ready to gorge themselves upon the offal of a slain goat, retiring after the banquet to a convenient tree to await the process of digestion. I have never known of their eating the bodies of their own species, but they do not object to making a meal off the flesh of a fat petrel if fortune casts a dead one in their way.”

Behavior: Dr. Palmer says in his notes, quoted by Mr. Ridgway (1876): The “Calalie” is abundant on every part of the island; and no bird could be a more persistent or more cruel enemy of the poultry and domestic animals. It is continually on the watch, and in spite of every precaution often snatches its prey from the very doors of the houses. The destruction of the wild goats is not so great, as these animals are better able to protect themselves than the tame ones. No sooner is one kid born: while the mother is in labor with the second: than the birds pounce upon it; and should the old one be able to interfere, she is also assaulted. No kid is safe from their attacks. Should a number be together, the birds unite their forces, and, with great noise and flapping of their wings, generally manage to separate the weakest one and dispatch it. They sometimes fasten upon the tongue when the poor creature opens its mouth to bleat, and have been known to tear it out, leaving the animal to perish, if not otherwise destroyed. Sometimes the anus is the point of first attack. The birds are cruel in the extreme, and the torture sometimes inflicted upon the defenseless animals is painful to witness. They occasionally, when pressed by hunger, attack full grown goats; numbers harass it together from all sides at once, and soon put it to death. A “burro” (jackass) which had accidentally become wedged among some rocks, was once furiously attacked and lost its eyes before assistance reached it. Even when food is plenty, they often attack living animals instead of contenting themselves with the carcasses of those already dead, seeming to delight in killing. Should one of their number be disabled or wounded, it is instantly dispatched by the rest.

Dr. Bryant (1887) writes:

Being of an unsuspicious character, they will allow a person to walk directly towards them until within shooting distance, merely watching the intruder until the distance becomes less than agreeable. If they happen to be upon the ground they beat a retreat at an awkward walk or, if necessary, a run, taking wing only as a last resort, and even then flying but a short distance before alighting. Their actions, gait, and positions, while on the ground are similar to those of a buzzard. In flight, the light color on the primaries is distinctly shown.

During several consecutive days, a ‘Queleli” came to my camp, searching for scraps of food. One day I saw him making off, at a walk, from the cook house, carrying with him a piece of bone from the leg of a goat, and upon which a little raw meat still adhered. With this bone, fully nine inches in length, grasped firmly in his bill, he retired to what he considered a safe distance before commencing his feast.

As far as my observations went, the birds were entirely silent, but the agent informed me that when perchance a rifle ball carried away a wing or a foot, the unfortunate bird would scream long and loudly. If the wounded creature happened to be in company with others of his kind, he would be immediately attacked and killed. One which was badly wounded attempted to escape by running, with the assistance of his wings. Being overtaken and brought to bay, instead of throwing himself on his back in an attitude of defiance, or uttering a cry for quarter, he raised his crest and with an air of defiance, calmly awaited death as became the Eagle of Guadalupe. Weakened by the loss of blood which poured from a wound in his throat, be finally fell forward and died: silent and defiant to the last.

Voice: Dr. Palmer’s notes (Ridgway, 1876) state: “When surprised or wounded they emit a loud, harsh scream, something like that of the Bald Eagle. In fighting among themselves, they make a curious gabbling noise; and under any special excitement the same sounds are given forth, with an odd motion of the head, the neck being first stretched out to its full length and then bent backward till the head almost rests upon the back. The same odd motions are made and similar noises emitted when the birds are about to make an attack upon a kid.”

Range: Formerly Guadalupe Island. Now extinct.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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