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.







29 comments:

Larry said...

Hi Tootie,

Superb post on the Turkey Vulture. We are lucky here to see them all the time. I enjoy seeing them sunning themselves in the morning. I didn't know that they also did this to bake off debris left on their bodies.

Great information and nice photographs too!

janeywan said...

Wow, great photos! I'll pass on having one for a pet, thank-you even if it were legal. :)
The video brought to mind the old movie "The Birds". When I was a kid that was the scariest movie I can remember.

Babooshka said...

This was so informative. It is the UK garden birdwatch this week, so very timely post.

Reader Wil said...

Tootie, I didn't know anything about the turkey vulture. Thanks to you I know more. This is an excellent and informative post! And the photos were very good.

Darla said...

that bird is huge!

Snap said...

Very useful critters, turkey vultures. Thanks for visiting! I think my blue jay is very respectful of my little sparrows. Amazing! Guess he knows who puts the food out! Ha!

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Venue and kettle ... interesting. I'd always assumed that circling meant they were ready to swoop down, good to know that sometimes that means they are ready to leave town to new air space.

AppleDebbie said...

What a wonderful, informative post. The Turkey Vultures are huge! I enjoyed the photos and the video... thanks for sharing!

Joy0z said...

The video is was very cool. The formation of the Turkey Vulture were fantastic! Great job.

Joyoz Photography

Gattina said...

Very interesting post about Turkey Vultures, I never saw them.

Carolina said...

Very interesting post! Liked the video. Now knowing all this about them, I would still feel a little uncomfortable if I saw a group of vultures circling above my head, thinking: "Do they know something about me that I don't know yet?" For I understood from your post that you will only have to be afraid if you are a vegetarian that just dropped dead (well, you wouldn't be afraid anymore then). And since I'm a vegetarian....... ;-)

fishing guy said...

Tootie: What neat captures on the Black Vultures of Florida. They are different then the Turkey Vultures we have with the red heads.

Bruce said...

I like birds when they are a little smaller & fun to chase:)

Samantha ~ Holly and Zac ~ said...

Oh wow, there are so many of them and they really are huge.

Nice pic's, video & info. :-)

i beati said...

we have hundreds here hundreds sandy

Tootie said...

Fishing Guy, because of the light shining toward the camera it makes the coloring not exact. Their heads had more of a red color than they appear. Also, I did do quite a bit of research to be reasonably sure that they are Turkey Vultures. The most obvious reason I found in my photos is that the undersides of their wings are gray and only the tips of the wings are white on the black vultures. I added a photo on the post for comparison.

If I am wrong, I stand corrected. :-)

The following is info from one of the sites that I used:

The major differences in these two birds are their appearance. The black vulture is approximately twenty-two inches in height and weighs 3.8 to 5.1 pounds. Its wingspan is approximately fifty-four inches and the bird is a dull black. It can be distinguished by wrinkles that cover the head and face, it has white tips on the primary feathers of each wing, the tips of their bills are grayish in color, the legs are a whitish color, have rounded tails, and their feet extend past their tails during flight.

The turkey vulture is approximately twenty-five inches tall and weighs from 3.5 to 5.3 pounds. The wingspan is larger than its counterpart at seventy-two inches. This bird is blackish brown and has its own distinguishing features. The turkey vulture has a red head and legs, the tips of the bills are white, and the undersides of their wings are lined in gray. In flight, their tails extend past their legs, just the opposite of the black vulture.

JohnR said...

The mercaptan you are referring to is methyl mercaptan. There are a lot of mercaptans, but this is not one that is used to odorize natural gas, or any gas, for that matter.

Tootie said...

John R, I found the information about the mercaptan gas on several different websites and in articles.

These are just two websites that I read those facts on.

http://vulturesociety.homestead.com/#anchor_13471

http://books.google.com/books?id=hk66OIHoesEC&pg=RA1-PA544&lpg=RA1-PA544&dq=Turkey+Vultures+mercaptan&source=web&ots=JUE9GfY3Ta&sig=yZpVFX-m8pFrU2ZVv5sc33JcBfE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result

This article does refer to the gas as methyl mercaptan , but also states that it is used for detecting natural gas leaks.

http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/TurkeyVulture_051125.htm

I tried to be careful to get my facts correct. Do you have some reference to the contrary that I could check. If so, I will gladly make corrections to my post.

I would have replied in an email, but I notice you do not list one, nor do you have a blog or website.

Tina said...

the video is amazing. how cool!

Dianne said...

fantastic photos and so much information!! thanks :)

Toni said...

Wow. What great pictures and a great lesson.

Willard said...

Very interesting and informative post on the vultures.

Nigel, Sola and Co. said...

We have a few in Vermont too. I appreciate them from a distance :)

CoyoteFe said...

Can I just say that I find turkey vultures unaccountably beautiful? I have no idea why, but there it is.

CoyoteFe said...

Can I just say that I find turkey vultures unaccountably beautiful? I have no idea why, but there it is.

David said...

yes
vulture=pet
i was so going to look for one to cuddle with,
dang

Manz said...

Learn something new every day!

Great combination of images and information - my favorite photo is the 3rd one. They're all great, it's just that I'm a sucker for that type of "context" thing - I feel that I could be standing on my own deck viewing them myself.

Are the others taken with a zoom?

troutbirder said...

We have lots of them here in the summer providing a clean up crew. Of course, in winter, they head down your way

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

What a cute pup