Known as the Mexican eagle, the crested caracara is the national bird of Mexico, but contrary to popular belief, it is not the bird found on that country’s flag (a golden eagle). Opportunistic hunters, they are often seen patrolling highways for roadkill. Their sharp eyesight helps them spot prey from the air at both great heights and low to the ground. Their long wings—reaching a four-foot wingspan—are designed for strong, swift flight and can propel them through the air at speeds up to 40 mph. Also adept on the ground, their long legs are adapted for both walking and running. They dispatch a wide variety of small prey using their strong feet, and strip flesh from bones with their their powerful beaks.
Caracaras occupy a niche similar to that of vultures, disposing of rotting flesh and preventing the spread of disease. Caracaras often locate roadkill before vultures, who must wait for warmer air currents to develop later in the day before they can soar in search of carrion.
Crested caracaras inhabit prairies, grasslands, woodlands, and brush lands from the southern U.S. to South America. Their range includes southern Arizona, New Mexico, central Texas, and a small population in Florida, and extends south to central Mexico, Central America, and South America including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil.
These birds are carnivorous but opportunistic. They will eat whatever food sources are available, primarily carrion from roadkill. They also eat live prey including turtles, snakes, small alligators, fish, frogs, crayfish, crabs, insects, bird hatchlings, and small mammals.
They can live more than 30 years.