Adult and Immature Crested Caracara
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One of the reasons that I love to observe and photograph Crested Caracaras is their weirdness. There’s a lot of mystery to these birds. I think that much of their behavior may still be an unknown quantity, if not to them, then certainly to us.
In the winter a fair number of them show up in the agricultural flatlands that run between Phoenix and Tucson. The majority, perhaps a substantial majority, of these birds consists of juveniles. Why that is so is anyone’s guess. I do know that adult Caracaras mate for life and that their breeding territory includes the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation, southwest of Tucson and about 40 miles from the youngsters’ winter residence. Perhaps the adults stick around the reservation while the kids head off on an adventure.
By mid-April nearly all of the young birds will have left the flatlands, presumably headed back to the reservation or to nearby venues. Again, it’s anyone’s guess why they do so. I’ve been told that Caracaras are gradually extending their breeding territory north of the reservation. But, as of now, the flatlands appear to be a winter home for young Caracaras and not breeding terrain for these birds.
The other day I was very pleased to get a nice portrait of an adult Caracara, one of the few that I see hanging out in agricultural country.
Its back and wings are mostly black, its neck mostly white, with gray speckles on it as it merges with its breast and back, and it has a black cap on its head.
Compare that with this photo of an immature Caracara that I made a few weeks ago:
The young bird is a deep chestnut in color. Its neck is pale beige, with some chestnut-colored speckles, and it has a dark brown cap on its head. The juvenile and immature birds are very easy to distinguish from the adults. That’s how I know that most of the Caracaras that I see in winter are young birds.
Caracaras’ weirdness extends to the bare skin that is visible from the base of these birds’ beaks to just in front of their eyes. The skin changes color and the color changes may be related to the birds’ moods. But, if that is so, which color signifies which mood? Yet another mystery.
The first image made with a Canon 5Div+100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture preferred setting, ISO 640, f10 @ 1/800. The second image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture preferred setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1000.