Santa Clarita Valley Outdoor Report: Turkey Vulture
This is a Best of Wendy Langhans Report
I was sitting on front porch, enjoying an unusually warm January afternoon, when a moving shadow caught my eye. I looked up and saw an unexpected sight - a Turkey Vulture soaring overhead - so close that I could see the splayed-out feathers on its wing-tips.
What’s going on here? I saw one...two...three Turkey Vultures circling overhead, weaving back and forth among the nearby trees. So I retrieved my camera from inside the house and walked over to take a closer look. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. There, in the middle of the road, I spotted the roadkill, the carcass of an American Coot that had been run over by a car.
That’s just about the time when I heard the neighbor boys, Owen and Wyatt, come around the corner on their scooters. “Hi Wendy!”
“Shhhh!.” I motioned for them to come over and pointed out the Turkey Vultures and the Coot carcass. Like most boys, they were intrigued both by the huge birds and by the grossness. Then their father came by, borrowed my camera and went even closer to take some photos.
We were all so busy watching what was going on, there was no time to explain the what and why. So Owen & Wyatt, here’s a few things to look for next time you see a Turkey Vulture.
• Turkey Vultures eat carrion (dead body of an animal). That’s one reason what their heads are bald. Turkey Vultures stick their heads into dead, decaying carcasses and tear at them with their curved beak. They don’t want globs of maggot-and-bacteria infested meat sticking to their feathers.
• Turkey Vultures use their “sense of smell to locate carrion”. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The part of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large, compared to other birds. Its heightened ability to detect odors—it can detect just a few parts per trillion—allows it to find dead animals below a forest canopy.”
• Turkey Vultures generally check out an area before landing. After all, whatever killed one animal may still pose a threat. According to the Turkey Vultures Society website, “they may remain in the air until they feel the situation is safe enough for them to land and begin feeding.”
• When Turkey Vultures gather around a carcass they take their turn; “typically only one feeds at a time”.
Being a parent, how can I NOT resist ending this story with an editorial comment. It seems to me we can all learn a few lessons from watching Turkey Vultures - wash your hands before and after a meal, check before diving head-first into a situation, and, especially if you have a brother, take turns.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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