The species is often described as ground dwelling because it is just as adept at walking and running as it is at flying. It has long, unfeathered yellow legs and large feet. The feet have talons which allow the birds to run more readily. It uses its feet like a chicken to scratch up insects from the dirt, and will also dig up turtle eggs and turn over debris or wade in shallow water in search of food. While chasing its food, it grabs them with one foot and holds the food falcon like in that foot while eating it. The feet are mainly weapons or tools, but are rarely used for maintenance scratching.




An interesting physical characteristic of the crested Caracara is the bare skin of its face. The bird's facial skin is a bright orange-red color. However, when the bird feels threatened, its skin will blanche progressively to a pumpkin color and finally to a pale yellow. When the bird is at ease, with the face its brightest color, the crest lays flat; when on alert, the face begins to lose its color and the crest becomes fully raised and flared. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is its unmistakable vocalization. The call resembles the sound of a stick being scraped over an old washboard; a forced laugh, and is emitted as the bird throws its head backwards onto its shoulders.