I took a trip down to South Texas in mid-April and was able to photograph some Crested Caracara from a photography blind at the Martin Refuge. The guide, Patty Raney, put out pieces of chicken to draw in the birds. Caracara will eat carrion as well as live prey.
The first image is an adult Crested Caracara. The second image is a younger bird. I believe it is a 2nd year subadult, but not sure if 1st or 2nd year. You can see that the darker areas are a bit lighter brown and the white area is not as sharply delineated as for the adult. Also, the bare skin in the area between the beak and the eye is not as colorful.
The third image is one of the adults after he has been eating for a while. His craw (or crop) is full and is bulging out of his feathers. You can see the stretched yellow skin.
The fourth and fifth images are an illustration of how the bare skin between beak and eye can change color quickly. This happens in the adults and in the younger birds. This one is a juvenile bird (1st year) I believe - either that or a 2nd year subadult. The color of the skin varies with the emotional state of the bird. If the bird is fearful, the skin is the palest. When tranquil, it is somewhat pale and when the bird is agitated or in confrontation with another bird, it is the most colorful. The color change happens very quickly.
For the bird in images 4 and 5, he (or she?) flew up to the top of this log to try to find more of the chicken pieces. In the first shot of the series, he is just looking around. In the second shot of the series, he has spotted a piece of chicken and is heading down the log to get to it. In the third shot of the series, he is defending "his" chicken from an intruder approaching from camera right. In the 5th image where I cropped to just the head, you can see the very pale skin in the first image starting to get a bit of color when the food is spotted and then getting very bright in just seconds when the intruder appears. We watched this behavior over and over. Very cool to see.
The next behavior is also one that we saw over and over throughout the morning. Adults and younger birds would get up on the highest perch out there and while calling in a loud, raspy cry, they would throw their heads back until it almost would touch their shoulders. I shot several sequences of this.
I have read several resources to see what this is all about, but cannot get a definitive answer. Some say it is a courtship ritual and others say it is more of a territorial display.
And I think the image of the last behavior I captured speaks for itself. No words needed. Where's that winking smiley when you need it?
Thanks, Pelle. It was sort of like the proverbial, "shooting fish in a barrel." We were sitting in a blind quite close to the action. These birds get fed on a regular basis, so they know the routine. We also drew in Harris's Hawks, Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. Even a few Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia and other curious birds came in for a look.