Sunday, April 14, 2013

Turkey Vulture Love

Good morning Turkey Vultures (looks like one is still asleep)
For about 3 years I've been watching a pair of Turkey Vultures that seem to have adopted a collapsed barn as a breeding site. I haven't seen the nest itself, but the birds' presence there for 3 consecutive breeding seasons suggests that there likely is one. I thought about getting permission to access the site in order to confirm the nest, but the truth is that I'd rather not be vomited on, for that's what vultures sometimes resort to when intruders get too close to their nests. Given the species disgusting diet, I think that my hesitance is warranted.
A Turkey Vulture perches over one of the beaver ponds
When I was still in high school, circa 1980, I began noticing Turkey Vultures making inroads into our region. Back then we had few large raptors, so any bird with a 6-foot wingspan was bound to make a big impression. By the 90's the species had become fairly common sight - at least during migration. After 2000, the species  was present in our region throughout the breeding season, which meant that they were very likely nesting nearby. Although, such a strong flier could be expected to search for food great distances away from the nest site.
In flight, Turkey Vultures look like they have small heads and long tails
The flight feathers are lighter and give the wings a two-toned effect
Though they look quite beautiful when soaring overhead, the Turkey Vulture is unlikely to win any avian beauty contests. Their red, featherless heads make them look quite homely, but this adaptation fits their lifestyle well. Vultures sometimes submerge their heads into the carcasses that they feed on; obviously, any head feathers would tend to get covered in gore and they’d be difficult to clean.
Road-killed animals provide vultures with much of their food 
A keen sense of smell sets the Turkey Vulture apart from other North American birds
The way the Turkey Vulture flies is quite distinctive. They don’t hold their wings out straight like most other hawks and eagles; instead their wings are kept slightly elevated into a shallow “V” shape. They also tend to rock or teeter from side to side as the soar. From the underside, the soaring Turkey Vulture looks black, but its long primary feathers have a lighter and more silvery cast to them.
Turkey Vultures can be seen circling in the sky & ascending on thermal air currents
so far this spring over 10,000 Turkey Vultures have migrated past the Derby Hill Hawk Watch  in Oswego.  On one single day last week, over 3,000 flew over on particularly favorable winds.
The Turkey Vulture's hooked bill is an efficient instrument for butchering 
Turkey Vulture nest sites are mostly found on hard to access cliffs, but they will occasionally accept nesting situations in trees, tree stumps, collapsed buildings, barns and other places. The main criterion for the site is that it be hard to reach by predators. They don’t normally build a conventional nest, but instead lay their eggs on the bare ground or on a rock surface with sometimes some wood chips or other gathered debris as the only insulation. Turkey Vultures usually lay 2 eggs, which both parents take turns incubating for around 40 days. The parents feed the young with regurgitated food. The young birds leave the nest after 65 to 88 days.
A Kingbird (much smaller) harasses a Vulture that came too near its nest
No doubt the reason that vultures moved into this region has to do with the increasing availability of carrion (dead animals). The region's large population of White-tailed Deer insures a pretty reliable food supply for scavengers like the vultures and coyotes. Though the majority of the calories consumed by Turkey Vultures comes from dead animal matter, they have been documented as occasionally eating insects, grapes and some other plant materials. 
Good Night, Vultures
The 2 love birds were at their favorite farm again this morning - perched very close together on a corner of the roof and busily preening themselves. I stopped to take a few pictures of them, but few of the shots turned out very well since invariably, either one or the other would have their heads down when I snapped the shutter. Apparently, they just weren't in the mood for a family portrait. I understand that Turkey Vultures will perform a courtship dance that involves several hopping around in a circle with wings partially held out. It is my hope to someday witness that spectacle.

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