Saturday, May 15, 2010
We recently had a flock of turkey vultures hanging out in the field behind our house here in Bodega Bay. Bobcats and herons have been feasting on a seemingly endless supply of moles and gophers in the past weeks. Maybe they drop little bits of their prey and the turkey vultures clean them up?
Anyway, far from the most beautiful of birds here on the coast, we took photos anyway. I did a little research and found some interesting turkey vulture facts as well. Warning, this is not for the squeamish, some of it's rather gross.
The turkey vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion (carcass of a dead animal). It finds its meals using its keen vision and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gasses produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals.
These birds will devour the most putrid of meat and have a natural immunity to toxins that might kill other creatures. Botulism has no effect on the turkey vulture at all. They deposit their own droppings down their legs as these contain an antiseptic coating that protects them from contracting infection through the prey. Their bald heads are also vulnerable to various bacteria, however the sun kills these off before any harm occurs. They are often seen standing in a spread-winged stance. The stance is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking off bacteria.
Even though turkey vultures have an ugly, bare-skinned face, they are beautiful in flight. They gracefully soar over large areas searching for food. In flight, they use thermals to move through the air, flapping their wings infrequently.
Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. Turkey vultures nest in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. They generally raising two chicks per year, which they feed by regurgitation. They have very few natural predators.
Even though they're somewhat unattractive, turkey vultures obviously play an important role in nature. By removing the carcasses of decaying animals, they limit the spread of disease and other health concerns. In the United States of America, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
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