Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima)

Yellow-headed Caracara

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Milvago chimachima | [authority] Vieillot, 1816 | [UK] Yellow-headed Caracara | [FR] Caracara a tete jaune | [DE] Gelbkopf-Karakara | [ES] Caracara Chimachima | [NL] Geelkopcaraca


Monotypic species


A south American bird of prey, resembling both the eagles and the vultures. The caracaras act as scavengers, and are also called carrion buzzards. The genus comprises of two species. They are characteristic of open prairies and savannas.

Physical charateristics

The Yellow-headed Caracara is broad-winged and long-tailed. The adult has a buff yellowish head, with a distinct black streak behind the eye, and buff underparts. The upperparts are brown with distinctive pale patches on the flight feathers of the wings, and the tail is barred cream and brown.The female is larger than the male, immature birds are mottled with brown below.

Listen to the sound of Yellow-headed Caracara

[audio: Caracara.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 45 cm
incubation min.: 21 days incubation max.: 23 days
fledging min.: 17 days fledging max.: 23 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Latin America : Costa Rica to North Argentina


Open country with scattered trees, near agricultural areas (cattle), savannah, swamps and forest edges


They use stick nests, as well as hills (termite mounds?), as nesting sites, but very often they use man-made structures, as well as cavity nests, f.e. trees. The relatively short incubation period (22 days) as compared to similarly sized raptors is interesting, particularly in light of the incredibly short fledging period of 17 days. The female is always the primary incubator at the nest. She iss occasionally (one or two times per day) relieved by the male who will call her off the nest. She flies to the calling male, who in turn flew into the nest and settled on the eggs. The female
returns a short time later (usually 5 to 10 min) and incubating duties are again switched. The delaying of incubation until a full clutch of four eggs has been laid followed by synchronous hatching is unusual for falcons. In fact, the superspecies compatriot of the Yellow-headed Caracara, the Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimachima), begins incubation upon laying the first egg.

At the range periphery, a species is experiencing ecological, and probably physiological, limitations. The differences found in clutch size in earlier studies (1-2) may be linked to the readily available food supply provided by conditions at the beeding site.

Feeding habits

The Yellow-headed Caracara is omnivorous, and will eat reptiles, amphibians and other small animals as well as carrion. It will also take ticks from cattle, and is locally called “tickbird”.

Video Yellow-headed Caracara


copyright: K. Blomerley


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The Yellow-headed Caracara is a resident breeding bird from Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago south through South America to northern Argentina. In Suriname a common bird, in Noreth Suriname even the most numerous raptor.
Yellow-headed Caracara status Least Concern


Very little data available, thought to be sedentary.

Distribution map

Yellow-headed Caracara distribution range map


Title Nesting observations of the Yellow-Headed caracara in the cerrado region of Brazil
Author(s): Carl A. Johansson, Eric T. Linder, Clayton M. White & Jose Carlos Lyra Fleury
Abstract: Although the Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chima..[more]..

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Title Feeding associations between capybaras Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (Linnaeus) (Mammalia, Hydrochaeridae) and birds in the Lami Biological Reserve, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Author(s): TOMAZZONI, Ana C., PEDO, Ezequiel and HARTZ, Sandra M.
Abstract: Feeding associations between capybaras Hydrochoeru..[more]..
Source: Rev. Bras. Zool. 2005, v.22, n.3, pp.712-716

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