More on a Very Special Bird

By Dan Weisz

Turkey Vultures have a bad rap.  When people think of Turkey Vultures they picture them in three ways:

  • Standing over fresh carrion and devouring ‘disgusting’ stuff.
  • Sitting on a tall pole or tree looking down on you (while waiting for you to keel over)
  • Soaring overhead lazily on thermals, their wings slightly raised and their bodies teetering back and forth effortlessly in the air.

Most imagery of Turkey Vultures is not positive. And yet, Turkey Vultures are just birds.  They have unique characteristics but in the end, they are just birds.  The time I spent with them this week just affirmed the “bird” part of their lives and avoided any of the “yuck” part of their lives.  The remaining photos accent those attributes.  I’m not sure I would call Turkey Vultures cute, but they are fascinating creatures and they behave just like birds!!

Like many raptors, they spend time stretching in the morning before flying.    Here this TV is stretching both wings well above its head.

And then it bends forward while still holding its wings up high.  This looks like TV Yoga!

On the other end of the backstop, another TV was stretching while on one leg, or perhaps it was just walking.

There was a discussion about who gets to perch where….

…while these three buddies just watched from the sidelines.

A one bird even squatted down, looking very relaxed.

One Turkey Vulture did a side stretch, extending one wing very slowly while lifting and extending its leg down and back.  The leg is hidden under the long wing.

I didn’t hear any sound nor did I see any pellet casting, but this TV repeatedly opened its mouth widely.  By the way, you can see pink at the top of its left foot. The legs and feet of Turkey Vultures are all pink although they appear mostly white. The white is the result of the birds excreting waste onto their legs.  That serves two purposes.  In warm weather this helps to cool down their body temperature.  When vultures step into a carcass, they risk tracking bacteria around on their legs.  When TVs excrete onto their legs, the highly acidic uric acid kills off bacteria and toxins that may be on the birds’ legs.

Birds spend time preening….

…and cleaning.

Now this may be a face that only a mother could love, but it certainly is unique and striking.  Unlike other birds, Turkey Vultures have no feathers on their heads.  It helps to more easily clean themselves when they are eating.

Coming in for a landing, the TV shows beauty and grace.

Another TV takes a bow!

Before I left, one Turkey Vulture did circle around a few times before heading to the desert in the west to join the others.

“Let us praise the noble turkey vulture: No one envies him; he harms nobody; and he contemplates our little world from a most serene and noble height.”    Edward Abbey

“Vultures are the most righteous of birds: they do not attack even the smallest living creature.”  Plutarch

“Vultures are homely, but they clean up all the garbage and that’s good. And they’re elegant in the sky.”   Roger Tory Peterson

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