Education Blog

Soaring Scavengers

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About six years ago, I saw my first Turkey Vulture soaring above the Long Island Pine Barrens.  I remember standing in a coppice of dwarf pitch pines, chin up, mesmerized by how easily these large birds moved with the air currents.  Like a surfer catching the perfect wave, the vulture glided effortlessly through the sky.  At that time I had not yet moved to Florida where these soaring scavengers are a common sight, both in the air and clumsily standing beside their carrion.  Now years later, the sight of these birds on the North Fork, more closely related to storks than hawks, also seems to be quite common.  The other day, I conservatively spotted six different Turkey Vultures circling in one afternoon.

While many find these bald, wrinkle-headed birds ugly and disgusting, I still find them a sight for sore eyes and get excited when I see them gliding.  Therefore, to try and persuade my reader to adopt these birds into their hearts and consider them “beautiful,” I have decided to share five interesting tidbits about the Turkey Vulture.

vulture* Turkey vultures are scavengers who search for food while in flight but rely heavily on their sense of smell.  Black vultures will generally watch and follow Turkey Vultures to locate their next meal.  There has been some record of vultures taking live prey such as nestling herons, baby turtles, or newborn calves.
*Turkey vultures are scavengers who search for food while in flight but rely heavily on their sense of smell.  Black vultures will generally watch and follow Turkey Vultures to locate their next meal.  There has been some record of vultures taking live prey such as nestling herons, baby turtles, or newborn calves.

*(These next two will not help my cause…..)  Vultures prefer the flesh of freshly dead animals but will eat meat in various stages of putrefaction.  They have excellent resistance to bacteria and toxins often found in decaying meat.

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*Turkey Vultures will release liquid excrement onto their legs to cool themselves and kill bacteria on their legs.  While vultures will often spend time with their wings spread to warm their bodies and dry their feathers, the heat also helps kill bacteria from their wings.

*Turkey Vultures do not have feathers on their heads or necks and while this trait does not make for the prettiest bird, it’s a functional characteristic.  Turns out being bald attributes to the cleanliness of this bird due to the fact that it often sticks its head into the carcass of messy, dead animals.vulture 2