Monday, April 20, 2009

Turkey Vultures raising and spreading their wings in the sun...

Just before dinner, I went out on our balcony at the Clifty Inn and saw these three Turkey Vultures just hanging out around the fire pit. The scene took me by surprise and was sort of comical. To see these huge birds walking around on the ground, preening now and then, and basically acting cool, was like looking over the fence in the Munster's back yard!


Dude, what's for dinner?


This is the reason you always use a tablecloth in TV country...

The sun was out, but just barely. It was mostly under a cloud, but suddenly, the cloud cover broke and the sun burst forth at full strength. Like a choreographed dance, the three birds immediately turned around so their backs were to the sun and lifted their wings...at the same time and in the same way. 


...very cool to watch, but sort of creepy too! It looks 
like there is something really important in the fire pit...


I was focused on the middle bird, and after I clicked my 
camera, he turned his head around an looked at me. 
I wonder if he was the same one giving me the eye in 
the previous flight photos?

Beak Bit
It was fun to watch the vultures because as soon as the sun would go back under a cloud, they would drop their wings, turn around and start preening or walking around. Then again, as the sun came out, they would turn their backs and lift and spread their wings, fully extended. Matty wondered what they were doing, and I know other birds will use the sun to heat up parasites (mites) in their feathers to kill them, so I assumed the vultures were doing the same thing. Last night I did a little research and found, yes, they use the sun to kill parasites (or to heat up the mites to get them to move so they could be more easily preened off), but they also raise or spread their wings for other reasons.

To kill the bacteria that coats their wings after eating carrion. After the Turkey Vultures eat, they are often covered with nasty bacteria from their decaying meal. The sun's ultraviolet rays effectively kill the bacteria on the wings. Turkey vultures can eat decaying and contaminated meat because of enzymes and bacteria in their digestive systems. As a means of defense, Turkey Vultures will projectile vomit just like Great Blue Herons. Throwing up fish is one thing, but throwing up rotten, decayed and contaminated meat is another. Yuck!

To warm themselves on cold mornings. Turkey vultures can lower their body temp to conserve energy at night, but in the morning, they need to warm up to be able to fly. The outstretched wings absorb the heat from the solar energy and soon warm up enough to take off. When the TVs take off, they use their incredible sense of smell to detect carrion. Turkey Vultures can even find natural gas leaks because the additive to the normally odorless gas (ethyl mercaptan) is a chemical similar to the one let off by decaying meat.  


Turkey vultures eat mostly carrion and therefore do Mother Nature a great service. Their feet and beaks are weak, and they can't carry food like a raptor or kill like one. Their cousins, the Black Vulture have stronger beaks, and sometimes kill food. Turkey Vultures never circle a dying animal. They circle and ride thermals, and seek dead things by picking up the odor.

For close-ups of a Turkey Vulture, click here

24 comments:

Laure Ferlita said...

I have heard all my life that when vultures circle it is always over something dying. How interesting that it isn't true!

That capture of the bird looking back at you would have given me the creeps, you're one tough cookie!

Kelly said...

Laure...it is true for other vultures (some of them)....just not Turkey Vultures. TV's beaks and feet are not strong enough to kill like a raptor. Other vultures, however, can finish an animal off (that's what I read last night.)

Ramadhani said...

verry interesting. I am waiting you for the next posting..
I follow your blog...
Thank you
Ramadhani-Indonesia

Kelly said...

Ramadhani...thank you for stopping by. I just visited your blog and what beautiful scenery you have!

Phil and Mandy said...

Hi Kelly, We have Cormorants here in the UK and they also stand with their wings open like your Vultures.

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
Very impressive that they go so close to human construction :-) Yeh It looks like they are copying cormorant :-) Great pictures!

Jayne said...

Really interesting information about the TV's Kelly. What a sight that must have been!

hillybillyfarmgirl said...

Fantastic! I saw Vultures in Texas, back in 97... I don't know if it was TV though... It was the first time in my life that I saw them, we don't have them here. I remember how excited I was.
Thank you for the additional info on the TV, I always love to learn more about our wildlife!

:))

Steve B said...

Thanks for the extra data. I learned a bit today.

Montanagirl said...

Very cool photos, and very interesting post. I knew some of that, but not all. Good work. Love your blog.

Cicero Sings said...

That was an interesting lesson ... I even read it out loud to D. We have a few turkey vultures up here.

Mary said...

Great shots....I didn't realize how brown they were....always thought they were black. Will remember the tablecloth :-) A lot of interesting information here.

Warren Baker said...

What an interesting post kelly. Those Vultures look real hard guys

Ken Browne. said...

Hi Kelly. 1st of al our Cormorant's spread their wing for a different reason, as you probably know, it's to dry them, also I read somewhere that it helps with digestion.
As for your Turkey Vultures, what characters aren't they? Love the syncronization and as for climbing on the table, what were they trying to do,GOBBLE up the scraps??
Seriously though, they are a fascinating species of bird with such a acute sense of smell.Like a lot of birds of prey they never hit the heights until the weather is warm enough.
Lovely blog kelly

Ginnymo said...

Wow!! You got great shots of these birds!!! How awesome Kelly!!! I love the way that one is looking at you..LOL

The Early Birder said...

TV's wing stretching looks similar to Cormorants.

Kelly said...

Phil and Chris....I have seen Cormorants spreading their wings here, and they do look similar.

Jayne...thanks. It was fun watching them, especially as the sun kept going in and out, and they would open and close their wings with the sun!

Farmgirl...you no doubt saw a few TVs down in Texas too. You may have seen Black Vultures also.

Steve, Montanagirl, Cicero, and Mary...thank you!!

Warren, Ken, and Frank....thanks! The Cormorants around here and on the coasts are fun to watch also. I love to watch them fish and then sit and dry their wings. I read their sense of smell is so acute because that part of their brain is way larger than the other birds. It's cool they can sniff out their dinner!

Ginny....he was definitely looking at me. He heard me click the camera. I don't think he was impressed with me!

Stephen Baird said...

great photos here! love the variety.
nikonsniper

Kelly said...

Thanks, Stephen!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, what a great sight! Thanks for the interesting information! I didn't know that...

Cheers,

Rosa

Roy said...

That is some pretty revealing info Kelly. I still don't like the things though. {:)

Shellmo said...

You got some wondeful photos - I love seeing their wings fanned out!

Heather said...

That's cool that you got to observe them fanning out their wings in unison like that. It seems like TVs are a bird you don't get to see up-close all that often... mostly just see them soaring way up high...
Clifty Falls looks like a pretty neat place. I'm glad you shared your photos and experiences with us!

Kelly said...

Rosa, Roy, Shelley, and Heather...thank you! Heather...for us, Clifty is only 2 hours away, which makes it nice.