Eating carrion is a dirty job… thankfully there is help on the wing to perform this most important task in nature.
The Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, is the most widely distributed vulture in the Americas and definitely fit for the task. They are easily recognized, as they soar with their wings in a dihedral (V-shaped) pattern, and can glide up to 60 MPH. The Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus does not hold its wings in this manner, and is more common in southern ranges. They also depend more upon sight rather than smell to find food.
Superior olfactory senses alert, the turkey vultures soar in a wide area in search of food. They have been observed in loose flocks, covering miles of ground in their search. If one vulture finds food, it disappears into the canopy, or down to the ground. The others see it has descended, and investigate. This behavior multiplies upon itself, and soon you have many birds feeding together.
Extremely un-aggressive, adult vultures are around 30” with a wingspan of 6 feet. Nest sites, once a year, are rock walls, ledges, caves, hollow trees and abandoned buildings. 1-3 eggs are laid on the bare floor of the nest and after 38-41 days, chicks hatch. If you listen at the beginning of the video, you will hear the chick hissing—an inhalant defense mechanism for chicks and parents alike. Both parents share in the brooding, feeding, and care of the young. Fledging occurs around 70-80 days. Food is varied from mostly carrion to insects and occasionally fruit and small shellfish.
The vulture is prone to accumulating pesticides and other contaminants. Being an opportunistic feeder, they often feed along roadways, making them victims of accidental vehicle collisions. And, although a protected species in international migratory bird treaties, they are vulnerable to accidental trapping, shooting, and the ingestion of lead from other hunted animals that they ingest.
Watch for them in the sky and if you happen to be walking beneath them, Step Lively!
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