The taxonomic status of the crested caracaras (Caracara spp., Falconidae) has been unsettled for many years. Current sources such as the AOU Check-list recognize a single species that includes three taxa formerly considered distinct, citing observations by Hellmayr and Conover (1949) on two specimens considered to be intermediate. We studied plumage characters and measurements of over 392 museum specimens and found no evidence of clinal change between the northern and southern continental populations. Sixteen specimens from localities near the Amazon River where these two populations sporadically meet exhibit a mosaic of plumage elements from both forms. Measurements of wing chord, bill length, and bill depth indicate that size is positively correlated with latitude north and south of the equator and that females are larger than males in the northern population. These populations do not meet in western South America. We conclude that three biological species can be identified in the crested caracaras: the insular Guadalupe Caracara (Caracara lutosus); and two continental species, Northern (C. cheriway) and Southern caracara (C. plancus), neither of which shows subspecific variation.
Additional publication details
A taxonomic study of crested caracaras (Falconidae)