Turkey Vultures have been circling the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing recently. They are the latest bird migrants I've seen coming back from their winter residence in the south to claim a nesting territory in mid-Michigan.
Not a bird you're likely to see at the feeders. Turkey Vultures soar in circles as they ride the thermals, using their sense of smell to locate tasty carcasses on the ground.
This big brownish black bird can have a wingspan up to six feet and was recognized easily not only by its large wingspan but also by its tiny, red, bald head. Male and female turkey vultures are identical in plumage and in coloration, although the female is slightly larger. Immature birds (under one year) have black beaks and heads. As the bird matures the beak gradually turns white and the head red.
Turkey vultures frequently circle and gain altitude on pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. They can soar for hours without flapping their wings. When they reach the top of the thermal, they glide across the sky at speeds up to 60 miles per hour and can cover many miles going from thermal to thermal without ever needing to flap.
Once only a southern US bird, by the 1960's they had extended their breeding range into Michigan. The popular theory is that the interstate highway system increased the availability of food in the form of roadkill.
Impressive Wake of Turkey Vultures http://goo.gl/DYddr
Turkey Vulture are one bird that makes a ground nest in Michigan http://goo.gl/6dAek
Why do vultures circle dead stuff? http://goo.gl/nD9qe