Caracara (subfamily)

Caracaras are birds of prey in the family Falconidae. They are traditionally placed in subfamily Polyborinae with the forest falcons,[1] but are sometimes considered to constitute their own subfamily, Caracarinae,[2] or classified as members of the true falcon subfamily, Falconinae.[3] Caracaras are principally birds of South and Central America, just reaching the southern United States.

Mountain caracara.jpg
Mountain caracara
Phalcoboenus megalopterus
Scientific classification
Polyborinae or Caracarinae
Crested caracara (C. plancus) in flight

Unlike the Falco falcons in the same family, the birds in the five relevant genera are not fast-flying aerial hunters, but are comparatively slow and are often scavengers (a notable exception being the red-throated caracara).


Image Genus Living Species
  Daptrius Vieillot, 1816
  Ibycter Vieillot, 1816
  Phalcoboenus d'Orbigny, 1834
  Caracara Merrem, 1826
  Milvago Spix, 1824


The caracaras are found throughout much of the Americas. The range of the crested caracara extends as far north as the states of Arizona, Texas, and Florida in the United States.[4] In the Southern Hemisphere, the striated caracara inhabits the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego, just off the coast of the southernmost tip of South America.[5]


The genus Caracara Merrem 1826 was previously known as Polyborus Vieillot 1816. Hence, the differing subfamily names Polyborinae or Caracarinae. In addition, different authors give differing scopes to the subfamily, sometimes including the forest falcons, laughing falcon, or spot-winged falconet.

Peters' checklist[6] in 1931 listed the caracaras in their own subfamily, Polyborinae, containing Daptrius, Milvago, Phalcobœnus, and Polyborus. Ibycter americanus is included as Daptrius americanus.

Whilst recognizing "three major, deep divisions in the Falconidae",[7] the South American Classification Committee (SACC) of the American Ornithologists' Union voted[8] in 2007 to recognize two subfamilies: Herpetotherinae containing the forest falcons; and Falconinae containing the caracaras and true falcons.

Based on recent research in molecular genetics,[9] John Boyd[10] places the spot-winged falconet (Spiziapteryx) in Caracarinae, and the forest falcons in Herpetotherinae. He also comments that "many of the caracaras are closely related, and it would not be unreasonable to merge Ibycter, Milvago, and Phalcoboenus into Daptrius".


  1. ^ Myers, P. R.; Parr, C. S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G. S.; Dewey, T. A. "Subfamily Polyborinae (caracaras and forest falcons)". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2009-08-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Check-list of North American Birds". North American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 2009-08-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "A classification of the bird species of South America". South American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Archived from the original on 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2009-08-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Crested Caracara". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2009-08-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Marín, Manuel; Alejandro Kusch; David Oehler; Scott Drieschman (2006). "Distribution, Breeding and Status of the Striated Caracara (Phalcoboenus australis) (Gmelin, 1788) in Southern Chile" (PDF). Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia. 34: 65–74.
  6. ^ Peters, James Lee (1931). "Subfamily Polyborinae". Check-list of birds of the world: volume 1. Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Harvard University Press.
  7. ^ South American Classification Committee (8 September 2014). "A Classification of the Bird Species of South America, Part 5 (Trogoniformes to Psittaciformes)" (version 21 ed.). Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 22 September 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Remsen, Van (June 2007). "Proposal (#281) to South American Classification Committee: Classification within Falconidae". Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 22 September 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Fuchs, J.; Johnson, J. A.; Mindell, D. P. (2012). "Molecular systematics of the caracaras and allies (Falconidae: Polyborinae) inferred from mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data". Ibis. 154: 520–532. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.2012.01222.x.
  10. ^ Boyd, John H. "Falconiformes". Taxonomy in Flux Checklist. Retrieved 26 September 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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