We never used to see these large, strikingly patterned relatives of falcons in this area, but in the last five or six years they have become more and more common. I still see them most frequently in winter, but apparently they are here all year round. Indeed, the adults are considered permanent residents on their territories, although young birds may wander considerable distances.
"Caracara" is a South American Indian name that is based on the bird's call. These birds generally feed on carrion and they can be aggressive at a kill, chasing Turkey and Black Vultures away. But they are not just carrion feeders. They are also known to hunt small animals, often flying low and taking the animals by surprise. They also scratch on the ground for insects or sometimes dig up turtle eggs. However, their main source of food is probably carrion, of which much is road kills. They can often be seen early in the morning at such kills.
This interesting bird has been under pressure and seems to have declined in some parts of its range possibly due to shooting and habitat loss. But here in this part of Texas, it seems stable and increasing and appears to be expanding its range.
Crested Caracara photographed on Katy Prairie in winter.