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Correlation of Cere Color with Intra- and Interspecific Agonistic Interactions of Crested Caracaras

Dwyer, James F.
The Journal of raptor research 2014 v.48 no.3 pp. 240-247
Cathartes aura, Coragyps atratus, Corvus brachyrhynchos, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, adults, age structure, aggression, blood flow, color, crows, wattles, Turkey (country)
Bright coloration in birds is an important indicator of individual quality often used in social displays. Structural, carotenoid-, and melanin-based colors are long-lasting, widespread, and widely studied. Hemoglobin-based colors are ephemeral, rare, and less studied. Hemoglobin-based displays occur when an individual facultatively enhances or restricts blood flow through caruncles, combs, wattles, or other highly vascularized un-feathered skin patches. In Crested Caracaras (Caracara cheriway; hereafter “caracara”) highly vascularized ceres facultatively undergo immediately reversible hemoglobin-based color changes, hypothesized to correlate with status during contests. I predicted aggressors in contests would consistently display hemoglobin-deprived ceres (hereafter “light”), and receivers would display hemoglobin-enhanced ceres (hereafter “dark”), or vice versa. To test this hypothesis, I conducted 149 30-min group observations during which I recorded outcomes of all observed intra- and interspecific agonistic interactions involving caracaras in groups including up to 46 caracaras (x¯ = 13.4, SD = 6.9). I recorded 2586 agonistic interactions in which I could identify cere colors and ages of both caracaras involved in an intraspecific interaction (n = 1160), or of one caracara involved in an interspecific interaction (n = 1426). Cere colors of caracaras were consistently light when acting as aggressors in intra- and interspecific agonistic interactions, and dark when acting as receivers. Within age classes, caracaras displaying light-colored ceres were consistently aggressors toward caracaras displaying dark ceres, and between age classes, adults with light-colored ceres were aggressors toward younger birds with dark ceres. Caracaras displaying light-colored ceres were aggressors toward Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) and caracaras with dark ceres were receivers of aggression from these species. Regardless of the cere color, caracaras were subordinate to much larger Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and dominant over much smaller American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). My observations support the hypothesis that cere color is correlated with agonistic behaviors and support the signaling hypothesis by correlating specific cere colors displayed with individual roles in intra- and interspecific interactions.