| May 01, 2008

Outdoors -May 1, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - May 1, 2008 Turkey Vulture: Master Glider Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Lorraine Julien

This past couple of weeks I’ve had the thrill of watching a pair of Turkey Vultures gliding the thermals. When conditions are right, it seems that, for hours at a time, they can ride the air currents with seldom the need to move their wings except for a slight rocking motion. For a novice bird watcher, they are fairly easy to spot as, when in flight, you can see that the leading edge of their wings is a black or dark brown in sharp contrast to the silvery beige colour of the trailing feathers.

As the morning sun strengthens, these homely looking birds are transformed in their flights of fancy as they cruise at varying heights looking for the next meal. Unlike some other members of the vulture family, the Turkey Vultures have a great sense of smell, flying at lower levels as they try to focus on a source of potential food. In fact, these vultures are Mother Nature’s sanitation workers as they clean up their favourite food, which is carrion, the rotting flesh of dead animals and birds. Even long dead food is welcome – they are definitely not fussy eaters! If the dead animal is well decayed, it is much easier for them to eat and pick the bones clean. You’ve probably also noticed them hanging (literally) around the local dumpsites. In a pinch, they do eat some small mammals and birds.

In contrast to other birds of prey, Turkey Vultures have very weak talons. Stronger talons are not really necessary as they infrequently pursue live food, occasionally eating small mammals and birds.

They perch in trees at night, usually in groups, looking like little witches in their black cloaks. The morning sun invigorates them and, once again, they soar on the air currents. Actually, the Turkey Vulture lowers its nighttime temperature to about 34 degrees C which would explain why they seem lethargic until there is heat from the sun.

When raising their young, the ‘nests’ are very clean but, as time goes on, you can imagine the smell of leftover, regurgitated carrion! In fact, this very foul smell is the primary source of defence against potential attackers. Needless to say, the nests are not usually disturbed, especially by human intruders!

This vulture is found throughout most of North and South America and has been increasing its range north east on a regular basis.

Interesting Trivia: The Turkey Vulture’s head is especially suited to eating messy food since it is completely bare of feathers. This bird will certainly never win a beauty contest but it is a really hard worker and provides a necessary service in cleaning up ‘leftovers’! Another unusual feature is that the nostrils are perforated so that you can see right through the beak from the side.

Identification: Large blackish bird with a wingspan of about six feet and a body up to 32 inches long. In proportion to its body, the adult has a small, bare, red head with a white hooked bill. Two to three eggs are laid at a time on bare ground or in hollow logs or caves. Its vocals are very limited since it lacks the vocal organs of other birds and can only grunt or hiss.

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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