Caracaras are fascinating birds – classified as falcons but with many vulture-like habits, widespread in different habitats, distinct body shapes and long legs. But even more fascinating is their name, and just how it may – or may not – be pronounced.
There are 10 species of caracara found in the world today, and while their full names include a variety of descriptors such as mountain, red-throated, crested, striated, and black, they are all called caracaras. With just 3 letters repeated to create the word, pronouncing “caracara” would seem simple, but it’s really anything but.
There are four syllables in caracara, but while the two halves may look alike – “cara” and “cara” – they aren’t always pronounced the same. There are two typical pronunciations for the “car” syllable. Somewhat more common is the “air” sound (rhymes with fair, bear, share, care, chair, glare, and pear). Yet the “ar” sound (rhymes with car, far, star, jar, bar, par, and mar) is also well represented in caracara pronunciations.
Universally, the trailing “a” of “cara” is a short “uh” sound (rhymes with duh and is the same pronunciation as mug, lug, pug, rug, dug, and shrug), and is used with both of the “cara” pairs.
When these different options are combined, we have a two choices for how to pronounce the “cara” in caracara…
Yet while this name seems to have two identical halves, they can actually be pronounced differently. This means when we move to all four syllables of caracara, we could have four different, distinct pronunciations…
But we also have to consider the emphasis on each syllable, and which sounds are more prominent in each pronunciation. Regardless of the vowel sounds, the first syllables of each pair are more often emphasized. The double emphasis, however, is not universal, and some birders prefer either equal emphasis on both leading syllables, or heavier accents on the first syllable only. Put all together, this leads to 12 possible pronunciations.
As a general rule, no pronunciation emphasizes an internal syllable without first having emphasized the leading syllable of caracara. Similarly, the “uh” syllables are not generally emphasized, so we don’t need to consider those additional options.
With so many choices, which pronunciation is correct? As always, the birds themselves aren’t fussy and don’t mind whatever pronunciation we may use. In general, the double “air” pronunciation is somewhat more common, followed closely by the double “ar” variation, both with equal emphasis throughout the name, whether stressed or not. Less common is “air” followed by “ar” and it generally emphasizes the initial “CAIR” as well as the third syllable “CAR” equally and stronger than the trialing “uh” syllables. Still less common is a leading “ar” followed by “air” though it isn’t unheard of, but this option is the least popular pronunciation.
Personally, I flip between both the double “air” and double “ar” pronunciations without much preference, emphasizing all syllables relatively equally. Ultimately, it is up to you to use whichever pronunciation you are most comfortable with, and so long as you are able to communicate which bird you are referring to, it is the right pronunciation!