The southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus), also known as the southern caracara or caracara, is a bird of prey in the family Falconidae. As currently defined, the southern crested caracara is confined to central and southern South America. Previously included the northern crested caracara (C. cheriway) of the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, and the extinct Guadalupe caracara as a subspecies. Like its relatives, it was earlier placed in the genus Polyborus.

It has a total length of 50-65 cm and a wingspan of 120-132 cm. Weight is 0.9-1.6 kg (2.3.5 lbs), averaging 1,348 g (2,972 lbs) in 7 birds from Tierra del Fuego. Individuals from the cooler southern part of their range average larger than those from tropical regions (as predicted by Bergmann’s rule) and are the largest type of caracara. In fact, they are the second largest species of falcon in the world by average body mass, second only to the gyrfalcon. The cap, belly, thighs, most of the wings, and the tip of the tail are dark brown, the ear cups, throat, and nape are buff-white, and the chest, el neck, mantle, back, uppertail- coverts, crissum (the undertail-coverts that surround the cloaca), and the basal part of the tail are whitish-varnished dark brown. In flight, the outer primaries show a large whitish spot (“window”), as in several other caracara species. The legs are yellow and the bare facial skin and cherry are dark yellow to reddish orange. Juveniles resemble adults, but are paler, with stripes on chest, neck, and back, gray legs, and whitish, later pinkish-purple, facial and cereal skin.

It can be separated from the similar northern caracara by its more extensive barring on the chest, brownish and often slightly mottled/barred scapulae (all blackish in north), and pale lower back with dark barring (uniform blackish in north). ). Individuals showing intermediate characteristics are known from the small contact area in north-central Brazil, but intergradation between the two species is generally limited.