Caracaras are rather large birds of prey that occur in grasslands, dry forest, and rainforests from southern Texas south through Central and South America to Tierra del Fuego. The origin of their name comes from the Tupi language of Brazil and may be related to the sound made by the Yellow-headed Caracara. Two to three species are found in most parts of the Amazon rainforest and in Tambopata, Peru, four species of caracaras occur. The Red-throated Caracara frequents the rainforest canopy, and the Black, Yellow-headed, and the Southern Crested Caracara occur along rivers and in open habitats. Most guests of Posada Amazonas, Refugio Amazonas, and the Tambopata Research Center see one or more species of these noisy, conspicuous raptors during their stay.
In the Amazon rainforest, the two most common caracara species are the Black and the Red-throated. The Black is often seen along rivers and in clearings and other open habitats while the Red-throated is found in primary rainforest. The species that occur in Tambopata, Peru all have fairly long wings and tails, and bare skin on the face. The Yellow-headed and Southern Crested Caracaras have large pale patches on their wings and the base of the tail.
Caracaras are pretty common in most of their range. Although Yellow-headed and Southern Crested Caracaras are easily seen in other parts of their range, these open country birds are very uncommon in Tambopata and occasionally seen along the Tambopata River or in farmlands. The Black and Red-throated Caracaras are the species that are typically seen around rainforest eco-lodges such as Refugio Amazonas and are commonly found on rainforest hikes or during boat rides on the river.
Some interesting facts about caracaras:
- Odd falcons: Caracaras actually belong to the same family as the falcons. Unlike the Peregrine Falcon and kestrels, caracaras have broader, less pointed wings and don’t catch their prey after hovering or a swift dive from the air. Most species scavenge for carrion and small animals along rivers, beaches, and other open habitats.
- A wasp specialist: The Red-throated Caracara is one of the strangest raptors to occur in the rainforests of Tambopata. Unlike other raptors in the Amazon, it occurs in family groups of four or five birds (and sometimes more) and makes harsh calls that can sound a bit like a macaw. It also appears to be a specialist that feeds on wasp larvae, flying termites, and other insects. Although it is still common in the Amazon jungle, it may need large areas of rainforest to survive as it has disappeared from all but the largest tracts of rainforest in Central America.
How to see caracaras during a jungle tour in the Peruvian Amazon:
- Watch for these conspicuous raptors when traveling by boat: Most boat rides on the river turn up sightings of one or more Black Caracara. They are usually seen in flight and can be separated from vultures by their orange face, white at the base of the tail, and flying with floppy wing beats. Red-throated Caracaras are sometimes also seen as they fly across the river but are more commonly encountered on jungle hikes or visits to oxbow lakes. Canopy towers are also excellent places to see caracaras as they fly over the green roof of the jungle and perch in tall snags.
- Go birding with a guide: Although these large, noisy raptors are pretty easy to see on your own, a guide can help identify them or even bring them closer with an imitation of their calls.
Visit the Peruvian jungle with Rainforest Expeditions to see caracaras and other large raptors along with many other interesting Amazonian birds.