Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wild Bird Wednesday

The Turkey Vulture
The Turkey Vulture is the only regular vulture visitor in our area.  They used to be a rare sighting, but now they are common.  Seeing a Turkey Vulture floating, souring, rocking, swooping and climbing is the harbinger of spring (not death as some people fear)  and that makes them a welcome sight  ... I  have to admit, I get excited when I see them return from their winter hiatus to warmer country.

The Turkey Vulture ( Cathartes aura, which means either “golden purifier” or “purifying breeze.” ) is a New World Vulture which some believe is more closely related to the Stork than the Raptors,  but is still classified as a Raptor.  The Turkey Vulture shares in all of the characteristics that I listed on my Vulture Awareness Day post last Saturday (here) if you are interested  in the fun details.  They however do set themselves apart because they have the best sense of smell of all of the Vultures which is what they use to locate carrion.   The part of their brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large which heightens their ability to detect odors. They can detect just a few parts per trillion—allowing them to to follow a scent as far away as ten miles or find dead animals below a forest canopy.  Other Vultures often follow the Turkey Vulture around because they know they are the best at finding food.  Some scientists are looking into the possibilty of using them to locate bodies in missing person cases.
The Turkey Vulture is shy and is often bullied off his food  by other Vultures or carrion eating predators.  When eating in their own group, one eats at a time , chasing the others off and making them wait their turn.  They are also sun lovers, often seen  standing erect with their wings spread in the sun, presumably to warm up.
It's time to talk about Junior.  Junior was one of two resident Turkey Vultures at the Rehab Facility where I worked for years.  Senior was the bigger of the two and never habituated to his human care takers so he was not used as an education bird. 
Juniors story is a sad, but all too frequent story.  He ate carrion that had been left behind by a hunter ... it contained lead shot.  He developed lead poisoning and because he was so sick he couldn't migrate when it turned cold.  When he was found and brought to us, in additon to the lead poisoning, he had frost bite in both feet.  We treated him and he survived, but he lost most of his toes and talons on both feet.  Obviously he couldn't be released to the wild. 
Junior was wild and anyone who had to retrieve him from his mew knew that he remained  wild.  With hissing and occasionally vomit, he would jump from perch to perch to avoid you ... then after a bit, he would sit and allow us to put his jesses on and take him on glove.  He had became habituated to his care givers and once on the glove he would interact with us (Turkey Vultures are social in the wild).  He was actually playful and couldn't resist a good game of tug of war or just snatching at the toys we had for him.  

 His favorite was Tug of War ... because he always won :)

 As soon as you walked out into the sun with him on glove, he would spread his wings wide and you could almost see the pleasure on his face. 

 (I know, anthropomorphising again). 

 Anybody who knew Junior learned to love and respect the Turkey Vulture.  I still miss him and I think if I could choose my totum, it would be a Turkey Vulture in his honor.  He will always remain close to my heart ...
Junior was a favorite in the education programs ... especially with the young boys who loved that he would vomit on  his enemies and urinate on his feet.  "Gross!" they would say, with a big smile on their face ... Boys will always be boys :)
In the winter, his mew was heated and during the day we would let him come in and sun in one of the classrooms.
The hole, that goes all the way through allows, the air to pass through.  The Turkey vultur has special receptors in the lining of his nose that allows him to smell  the unique sulphurous chemical compounds of decaying meat.

Junior was a handsome boy in my eyes ... I hope you have learned from him and found a new respect for the wonderful Turkey Vulture ... He cleans your world and prevents the spread of disease.


  1. Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  2. He's a handsome boy in my eyes too. They do some great cleanup work too.

    Have a terrific day. ☺

  3. Junior is handsome! Wonderful series and an awesome post!

  4. Beautiful. And now, half a world away I am getting a bit misty-eyed over a vulture I never met. Perhaps I need to get out more...

  5. Wow, its huge. Terrific shots!

  6. Fabulous stunning photos. I always love to see the vultures circling above - knowing they are keeping the world a little safer for us.

  7. These birds to have a kind of attractive ugliness if that makes any sense!

    About five years ago H (my son) was eating a peanut butter sandwich at a local wildlife park, when a passing Ibis calmly walked up to him and stole it from his rather small hand! H did not know if he should laugh of cry - luckily he picked laughing, which is always much easier to deal with!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  8. I think that the scavengers of the natural world are sadly misunderstood and disrespected. We need them, as we do the predators. If we leave nature alone it takes care of itself and of us. Of course, you know I love them all. Great post, Andrea.

  9. an amazing series; very informative and beautiful photographs

  10. Andrea, these are gorgeous shots of Junior. I agree, he is a handsome bird. I have only seen them up close in Florida. Every year I have hopes of getting new photos of them. Today, the hot weather is supposed to be here for a couple of days. 93 degrees today. Ah well, pretty soon we'll be complaining about all the snow. lol. You have a fabulous day my friend. Hugs, Edna B.

  11. What a wonderful post this is! Thank you, Andrea and Junior (you handsome fellow) for giving such an up close look at a Turkey Vulture.

  12. A very handsome bird. I love the shots were you can see the details of the wings.

  13. I really enjoyed this superb post! Great information here and on the link you provided.

    We were fortunate this summer to find a Turkey Vulture nesting site and I was able to take a couple of quick photos of a juvenile still with a lot of down feathers and not quite capable of flight. But, boy, could he run!

    Thank you so much for the really nice article!

  14. HI You post was both informative and full of fantastic shots of this magnificent Vulture. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Andrea these are amazing shots and I love the story of junior. What a tragedy to happen to a bird in the wild, but how fortunate he was to have all of these amazing caregivers who gave him another chance at life. What an incredible wing span he had. also love seeing the beautiful feathers in flight! hope you are having an amazing weekend!