Bird of the Week: Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture, Robert Smith

Turkey Vulture

The author John Graves remarked that “a sky without two or three vultures wheeling and riding the thermals always looks empty to me”, and indeed the Turkey Vulture is so ubiquitous in our state as to be practically a part of the landscape. Soaring effortlessly for hours at a time, they seek out carrion from many miles away with a powerful sense of smell, unique among birds. Despite their size and appearance, Turkey Vultures are actually quite peaceful, and are frequently driven from kills by smaller scavengers like Black Vultures and Caracaras. While their feeding habits have garnered them a reputation as “dirty” animals, vultures are actually fastidiously clean–no doubt due to the risks presented by a diet high in rotting meat. Their bald heads allow them to feed without getting bacteria on them, and their digestive system is so effective at killing bacteria that their feces can actually kill grass! (No need to worry about your lawn, though: turkey vultures are quite secretive, and roost far away from human habitation.)

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

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