Eco-Friendly Turkey Vulture
Turkey vultures are nature’s clean-up crew. By devouring a possible source of disease and waste, turkey vultures perform a most useful job and are a most fascinating bird.
The turkey vulture’s neck and head are bald with scaly red skin — like that of a turkey’s gobbler — which is how they get their name. The lack of feathers on their head help fight the growth of bacteria picked up while eating their favorite meal – dead and decomposing animals! A turkey vulture’s wingspan can reach an amazing 6 feet in length. Turkey vultures weigh only about six pounds, but they are 25 to 32 inches from head to tail feather! The feet and legs are less like talons and more like the pale, fleshy-white walking feet of a turkey, though stronger and heavier. Another identifying feature of the vulture is a white, slightly hooked bill.
Turkey vultures are one of the few species of birds with a well-developed sense of smell, to help sniff out lunch.
Trash to Treasure
From early spring until late fall, groups of turkey vultures can be seen soaring over open fields and roads in search of dead animals, also known as carrion. The minerals and organic compounds locked up in the body of a dead animal would take months, even years to return back to the food chain and once again be useful. But the vulture, gathering with its fellows in reducing a dead animal to a few scattered bones in an hour or two, can put those minerals right back in the soil in the form of droppings. Vultures feed on the waste of all sorts, including rotten fruit and vegetables.
Home to Roost
Female turkey vultures lay only one or two eggs a year. Instead of building a regular nest of twigs, the females are happy to use a hollow log or scratch out an indentation in the soil and lay their eggs. Both the male and female take up the parenting responsibilities of sitting on the eggs till they hatch, caring for their hatchling.
Turkey vultures made Hinckley famous as the place where the buzzards return to the late winter Ohio landscape of Medina County every March to the delight of turkey vulture fans.
Turkey vultures are not early birds. They relax in their roosts until late morning to enjoy the rising warm air currents, known as thermals. After riding a thermal higher and higher in the sky, they suddenly dive down to catch the next one, and rise once again with amazing grace. It’s not unusual on sunny days to see large groups of turkey vultures perched in trees or resting on the ground with their wings outspread to catch a few rays.
At night it is not uncommon for a group of up to 30 turkey vultures to sleep among each other.
To cool off, a turkey vulture will urinate on its legs, its urine will also kill any lingering bacteria on its legs it might have picked up while stepping around in its dinner.
In self-defense, turkey vultures will vomit semi-digested meat with a smell so stinky that it chases off any would-be attackers!
Turkey vultures will stay in Ohio from February until November before flying south in search of warmer weather. Be sure to look for these eco-friendly birds, by going outside and visiting your local Ohio state park!