Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turkey Vultures

Since Turkey Vultures were the center of attention last week on Sanibel Island, due to a fish kill in a lake at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, I decided to use it as my Camera Critter this week.
I have photos and a video taken in that neighborhood; during the time the Turkey Vultures were abundant.
Due to some reports that the vultures were chasing a golf cart etc. I started searching for information about the vultures and found it pretty interesting.

Turkey Vultures were given their name because their featherless red head gives them the appearance of a turkey. The Turkey Vulture has a body length of 24 - 25 inches, a wingspan of 5 - 6 feet, and weighs 3 1/2 - 5 pounds. There is an important reason for their bald head. When eating carrion, it often has to stick its head inside the carcass to eat. A feathered head would catch some of the meal, along with bacteria. After mealtime, it perches in the sun to bake off whatever bits that might be clinging. Its plumage is primarily dark brown. In flight, the undersides of the flight feathers appear silver or white.
The males and females are identical in appearance. Their vocalization is limited. They can only utter hisses and grunts, usually grunting when they feel threatened or during courtship. Their length of life is not known for sure. The oldest living vulture on record is 33 years.
Turkey Vultures raise one brood a year, consisting of 1 to 3 blotchy-looking eggs. Their nests (are indentions scratched out in the soil and are usually in caves, hollow logs, on the ground, or abandoned barns and sheds that provide safe hiding places. Both parents share the incubating (38 to 41 days) and caring for the young, which have pure white down and dark grey faces. The young fledge 70 to 80 days after hatching.
The bird’s range extends across much of the continental United States, into Central America, and throughout most of South America. Birds in the northern limits of its range migrate south as far as South America.
Turkey Vultures are almost entirely carrion (the carcass of a dead animal) eaters and feed on medium-sized dead animals. These birds use their sight and acute sense of smell to find food during low level soaring flights. The smell that attracts them is mercaptan a gas product of the beginnings of decay. (This is the same gas used in natural gas to make it easier to detect leaks. Vultures have been used on many occasions to detect leaks in gas lines.) These birds do enjoy eating some plant matter as well.

Circling vultures does not necessarily indicate the presence of a carcass. They could be circling to gain altitude for long flights, searching for food, or simply playing. They do not eat live animals and they will not hurt pets or children. Their preference is fairly fresh meat, and avoids rotten meat if there is anything else available. They also prefer the meat of animals that eat mostly plants and avoid animals that eat meat. The vulture’s waste is actually a sanitizer, because their uric acid is so strong that it kills bacteria. This is because of their diet.

Turkey Vultures fly with their wings in a V shape. They’re very graceful in flight, and are one of the most skilled gliders in North America. Flapping their wide wing span is very laborious during take offs. That makes them vulnerable to predators and cars. These vultures most commonly gather into flocks of 30 to 50 birds, but sometimes more than 500. When migrating, they seek out thermals, bubbles of warm, moist air that rises from the surface on calm, sunny days. The vultures know that if they find a thermal and circle within it, they’ll get a free ride. This way they can travel long distances without having to flap their wings. A flock of vultures is called a venue and a flock circling in the air is a kettle. A kettle will ride a thermal until it weakens and then peel away, seeking the next one. The thermals die out when the sun begins to set, and the vultures must come back to earth.

Turkey Vultures can be found throughout the entire United States, north into Canada along the east and west coasts, and south into central South America. They prefer open areas, but can be found almost anywhere.

Just in case you are ever tempted; :-) it is illegal to keep a vulture as a pet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Endangered Wood Storks

A few days ago, I looked out the window and there were six Wood Storks (also called Wood Ibis)landing on limbs of a large, dead tree. It is very encouraging to see so many of the storks here on the island because they are on the endangered species list.

The Wood Stork is one of the largest wading birds in North America and the only Stork in the U.S. The adults stand a little over 3 feet, with a wing span of over 5 feet. It is white with a bald and grayish head. It's tail, legs and the flight feathers are black. The bill is pale yellow, curves downward and grows to around 9 inches long. On average they weigh around 7 pounds. Their weight limits their flight distance, but they can be rather acrobatic when they are descending. As these birds were landing on the tree limbs, their long legs made them look a little awkward to me. :-) They had a little trouble keeping their balance because their weight made the limbs bounce up and down. I kept watching, expecting a dead limb to break, but none did.

They prefer to live in wetlands, feeding in fresh, brackish, or salt water. They prefer to feed in shallow water by submerging their beak 2 or 3 inches in the water and feeling for fish passing by. Their nests are built very high in the tops of trees or shrubs and they like to nest in colonies. Females lay up to 5 eggs and both parents incubate the eggs for around 30 days and care for the young. Their diet consists of fish, crayfish, amphibians, snakes and young aligators.

It is understandable that Sanibel Island is a good home for the Wood Storks because it is a National Wildlife Refuge and Bird Sanctuary. Everything they need is here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Magnificent Eagle

We see many eagles here on Sanibel. This one kept coming back to the tree behind the house today. Each time it would break off a twig and fly away with it. I assume that it will be a part of a new nest. How privileged I am to be able to watch these beautiful birds.