Mother Nature’s clean-up crew returns

Mother Nature’s clean-up crew returns


They don’t have the beauty or allure of the bald eagle, nor the recognizable cry of a gull, but the return of turkey vultures signifies a “spring cleaning” of sorts of area roads and beaches.

Turkey vultures, or “buzzards” as some call them, are large black birds with a wingspan of about 6 feet. They weigh between 2 and 4 1/2 pounds and about 3 feet long.

Groups of the birds, called venues, recently have been spotted within Port Clinton city limits, to the east in Marblehead and to the west in Lacarne, foraging for food. These migratory birds are returning from winters in Mexico, Central America and warm, coastal regions of the U.S.

They can be seen as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, making them one of the most recognizable birds in the hemisphere.

At a glance, one might think the birds are bald. But actually, they have a lot of small feathers on their head which is an adaptation to help keep clean when sticking their heads into the guts of a dead animals, their source of food.

B9316741869Z.1_20150326214313_000_GDRAB6KDI.1-0 A turkey vulture takes a break from hunting to rest on a rooftop on Harrison Street in Port Clinton on a Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Jessica Denton/Staff photo)

This bird does a great service as a scavenger or garbage collector, helping to keep roadways and beaches free of carrion, or dead animals. The turkey vulture forages by smell, an ability that is uncommon in the avian world, often flying low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals.

Bailey VanKirk, the owner of Desdemona’s Art Gallery in Marblehead, said she’s seen turkey vultures on Alexander Pike eating roadkill.

“I spotted a few over the dead part of the quarry across from my house Monday,” VanKirk said.

Despite rumors, the intimidating looking birds are not a threat to living animals. They are accustomed to living near humans and snacking off of our leavings. You will often see them in farm fields or hanging out next to the road. However, they are not likely to be in your backyard unless something has died or you have a very large backyard.

Turkey vultures don’t have a voice box — they can’t sing or call. Their vocalizations are limited to hisses and grunts.

Turkey vultures can be distinguished from hawks and crows because they soar extensively, holding their large wings up in a broad “V” if viewed head-on. They appear black from a distance but up close are dark brown with a featherless red head and pale bill. They have long “fingers” at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight.

B9316741869Z.1_20150326214313_000_GDRAB6KO5.1-0Turkey vultures squabble over a branch to rest on in Lacarne last week. A large group, called a venue, was resting on a tree before taking off to hunt. (Photo: Jessica Denton/Staff photo)

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, vultures seek out a thermal — a column of warm, rising air. Using this thermal, the turkey vulture circles upward. Once it has ascended to a considerable height, the turkey vulture can glide away from that thermal, gradually descending until it finds another one.

Turkey vultures spend about one-third of their day soaring, according to ODNR.

The turkey vulture is gregarious, meaning it lives in flocks or loosely organized communities, breaking away to forage independently during the day. At night, vultures often gather in large roosts. Their preferred habitat includes deciduous forests and woodlands.

via Mother Nature’s clean-up crew returns.