Red-throated Caracara is a large, long tailed raptor. The plumage is primarily black, with white lower underparts (belly, flanks, and undertail coverts). The face and throat of this caracara are bare; the exposed skin usually is red but may also appear rosy or purple. The cera is bluish gray, and the stout tarsi and toes are bright orange.
Red-throated Caracara has very distinctive appearance and behavior, and is unlikely to be confused with other species. Black Caracara (Daptrius ater) of northern South America is somewhat similar, but is smaller and more slender, is all black, has bright orange or yellow (not red) facial skin, and has a white band across the base of the tail.
The following description is based on Blake (1977); see also Friedmann (1950) and Wetmore (1965):
Adult: Sexes similar. The plumage is mainly black, glossed with steely blue or greenish. The belly, undertail coverts, and tibial feathers are white. The skin of the face and throat is bare(see Bare Parts), with a few black bristles on the throat. The sides of the head are obscurely streaked with grayish white.
Immature: Plumage similar to adult, but lacking the grayish streaks on the auriculars.
No information is currently known about this species' molting strategy.
Iris: deep red, reddish orange, red
Bare skin of face and throat: deep red, orange red, deep vermilion
Cere: light blue dark neutral gray, plumbeous
Bill: base of mandible gray, rest of bill honey yellow, bright yellow, straw yellow, yellow
Tarsi and toes: coral red, reddish orange, vermilion
Bare parts color data from Friedmann (1950), Wetmore (1965), and Haverschmidt (1968)
Total length: 48-56 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986, Hilty 2003), 51-56 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 53 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989), 53.5-63.5 cm (Howell and Webb 1995)
Linear measurements (from Blake 1977; see also Friedmann 1950):
wing length: mean 355.5 mm (range 323-418 mm; n = 34)
tail length: mean 249.6 mm (range 211-296 mm; n = 34)
bill length (culmen from cere): mean 25 mm (range 22-27 mm; n = 26)
tarsus length: mean 54.1 mm (range 52-57.5 mm; n = 10)
wing length: mean 359.3 mm (range 331-420 mm; n = 19)
tail length: mean 253.1 mm (range 227-291 mm; n = 19)
bill length (culmen from cere): mean 25.8 mm (range 22.9-28 mm; n = 16)
tarsus length: mean 56.2 mm (range 53.4-60 mm; n = 7)
Mass: mean 624 g (n = 3, range 586-665 g, sexes combined; Dunning 2008); male, mean 532 g (range 500-570 g, n = 4; Haverschmidt and Mees 1994); female, mean 612 g (range 560-677 g, n = 3; Haverschmidt and Mees 1994)