Recently, I was treated to a familiar sight in the sky over our pond as the dark, long-winged form of the turkey vultures appeared soaring high on thermals. They were using very few wing beats so they were beautiful and graceful flying this way because of the thermals. Thermals are batches of warm air that rise up.
The turkey vulture is one of our largest birds and it grows as big as an eagle up to 32 inches long, with a five-foot wingspan and are found in forests, fields, roadsides, farmland, ponds and dumps. Obviously this pair was searching for carrion or maybe, because of their very keen sense of smell, they just knew something was below.
Vultures, which are usually seen soaring high up in the sky, can soar for hours at a time searching for food. Feeding mainly on dead animals, they prefer those recently dead (that is, relatively fresh carrion). Because they have small claws they rarely can kill their own prey. Their secondary foods (not their favourite) are decaying vegetable matter, live insects, or live fish and frogs in drying-up ponds. If a predator tries to attack them, turkey vultures will throw up on their attacker with a very foul-smelling liquid.
Considering what they eat, these birds are some of the cleanest animals around. Having few feathers on their heads means they can wash them easily, and turkey vultures often bathe in water, preen and clean out their feathers with their bill.
“Vultures are very important to the environment, because they clean up dead animals and make it so diseases are not spread. They are our wildlife vacuum cleaners!”
Some common carrion consumed by vultures includes: moles, squirrels, woodchuck, mice, rabbit, birds, reptiles, insects, muskrat, raccoon, skunk, and fox.
Turkey vultures have a terrific digestive system, which kills any bacteria or disease from the carrion they eat. Their droppings and pellets (thrown up bones and fur) are disease-free.
Vultures are very important to the environment, because they clean up dead animals and make it so diseases are not spread. They are our wildlife vacuum cleaners!
“Birds, it must be admitted, are the most exciting and most deserving of the vertebrates; they are perhaps the best entrée into the study of natural history, and a very good wedge into conservation awareness.” Roger Tory Peterson