About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Impressive Wake of Turkey Vultures

It’s common this time of year to see a string of geese flying across the city of Lansing, getting ready for their journey south. I especially enjoy when they fly low over our house, putting on an aerial performance and forming a V-shaped phalanx with impressive precision.

However last night I saw a vortex of Turkey Vultures, a less common sight above my house but no less impressive. According to Turkey Vulture Society “The turkey vulture is one of the most skilled gliders among the North American birds. It migrates across the continents with minimal energy output. Vultures launch themselves from their perches only after the morning air has warmed. Then, they circle upward, searching for pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. Once they have secured a thermal, they allow it to carry them upward in rising circles. When they reach the top of the thermal, they dive across the sky at speeds near 60 miles per hour, losing altitude until they reach another thermal. All this is done without the necessity to flap. In fact, the turkey vulture can glide for over 6 hours at a time without flapping a wing!”

When I saw them collecting above my house I thought for a minute I was in an old western and the “buzzards were gettin’ ready to pick my bones clean.” But of course Turkey Vultures are not known to circle a dying animal. And as I watched their hypnotic circling a little longer, I realized that this is just another gathering a birds preparing for fall migration.

“Buzzard” a term for a family of hawks is also an incorrect term for the vultures. Recent studies have shown that American vultures are not closely related to hawks and falcons as was previously thought.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes auraOrder: CICONIIFORMES Family: Vultures (Cathartidae)

Turkey vultures were given their name because their featherless red head gives them the appearance of a turkey. The rest of this medium-sized vulture that is mostly black.

Fun Facts
  • Turkey Vultures feed on carrion and are often seen on the roadside cleaning up dead carcasses. In some cases, turkey vultures also eat rotten fruits and vegetables and occasionally they prey on insects, reptiles, or bird nestlings.
  • Because turkey vultures are major consumer of carrion, they play an important role in biodegradation.
  • Unlike most birds, they have excellent eyesight and highly developed sense of smell.
  • A group of vultures has many collective nouns, including a "cast," "committee," "meal," "vortex" and "wake" of vultures.
  • The International Vulture Awareness Day in September.

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