“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY


“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY

This wonderful picture taken by Irish photographer Craig Nash appears on page 215 of “The Birds of Abaco”. It was awarded a full page to itself, and a few people have asked about this authorial / editorial decision. The simple answer is that the book is full of lovely pictures of gorgeous birds. Too much perfection can become tedious, and an occasional corrective is called for. The Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura is often described in detail, but only a really good close-up will reveal a bird that only its mother could love unconditionally. 

The text for the book is as follows: “Graceful in flight as they wheel overhead singly or in large groups catching the thermals, these large raptors are rather less attractive at close quarters. The head and neck are completely hairless. They lack a syrinx (the avian equivalent of a larynx) and can only grunt and hiss.These vultures are carrion feeders, with a sense of smell so keen that they can detect rotting flesh from afar.They usefully help to clear up road-kill on the Abaco Highway. Their defence mechanism – and what a good one – is to vomit foul-smelling semi-digested putrified meat onto a perceived threat”. 

Double-click on the image and you will be able to count the hairs on his chin. Go on. Nothing to lose. You can find out plenty more about these fine birds and their somewhat revolting habits including 10 Essential Facts, what they sound like, the statistical percentage photographed from below, and a free yet horrible Metallica song at ‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Craig Nash 1

‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO


‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

TURKEY VULTURES (Cathartes aura) are a familiar sight, wheeling effortlessly overhead on thermals or gliding with the wind in singles, pairs or flocks. Statistically, 83% of all photographs of turkey vultures are taken from below and look like this TURKEY VULTURE

Of those, 57% are taken in unhelpful light, and look like the one below. On the positive side, this picture show the extreme delicacy of the wing-tip feathering that enables these birds to adjust their direction and speed (this is not the bird above; it was taken by someone else at a different time. But 100% of TV in-flight photos are indistinguishable).Turkey Vulture Abaco CL 1

TVs have a wide range in the Americas and the Caribbean, and can prosper in almost any type of habitat. This is probably because these large birds are almost exclusively carrion feeders, and carrion is everywhere. They spend their days scavenging, or thinking about scavenging. They do not kill live creatures.

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus’ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song’. TVs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay from some distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… excuse me a moment while I… I feel a little bit…

Turkey Vulture Abaco 11

When they are not flying, feeding, breeding or feeding young, TVs like best to perch on a vantage point – a utility post is ideal. But unusually for a bird, you won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack a SYRINX (the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).

These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria.Turkey Vulture Abaco 3

They are equally happy to spread their wings on the ground, the shoreline being idealTurkey Vulture Abaco CL 3

10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER

  • One local name for TVs is ‘John Crow’
  • An adult  has a wingspan of  up to 6 feet
  • Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
  • The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
  • TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37 
  • LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
  • The Turkey Vulture is gregarious and roosts in large community groups
  • The Turkey Vulture has few natural predators
  • Though elegant in flight, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
  • The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak [some humans also suffer from MSS (missing septum syndrome). They tend to sniff a lot]

REVOLTING CORNER / TOO MUCH INFORMATION 

SQUEAMISH? LOOK AWAY NOW

UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture “often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as UROHIDROSIS. This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation.

HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is “regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”

Turkey Vulture Abaco CL 2

DIETARY NOTES TVs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water. 

ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread.

FORAGING TVs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.

SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. In the air, one bird closely follows another while flapping & diving.Turkey Vulture Abaco 4

For more about Turkey Vultures, including cool videos, visit DEAR KITTY

It’s possible you may enjoy a visit to max-out-cute Birdorable. Click TV below for linkturkey-vulture

And if you’d prefer something TV but less cute, depressingnature.com has the thing for you…turkey_vulture2

Credits: Photos mainly RH, 2 by Clare L, small ones Wiki; Info – cheers Wiki & random pickings

Oh. Ok. Here’s the Metallica thing referenced above. Sweaty. Not my taste these days.

A STROLL ROUND THE DELPHI GARDENS ON ABACO


There is a wealth of birdlife on the Delphi doorstep. You don’t even have to go out of the front gateway to find it. You’ll hear a great many more birds than you ever see – many are small and very hard to spot in the bushes, even when you can hear loud chirrups. Here are a few examples of what you might see, all taken within the Club precincts

TURKEY VULTURES, ever present, wheeling above the bay, sometimes in flocks of 20 or more. Their grace in flight is slightly spoiled by the knowledge that their heads are red, wrinkled, bald and… frankly unattractive. You may also see them hunched on a dead branch along the drive (second photo) LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRDS, one of several types of ‘Tyrant Flycatcher’, so-called because of their robust attitude to defending their territory. The first one is on the far side of the pool; the second is taken from the verandah.

 WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER, resident initially under the verandah eaves before moving to the upscale nesting box further along. Often seen during the day in the gardens, sometimes shouting raucously: the second photo is near the pool

ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH (previously wrongly ID’d as American Redstart – thanks CN) I’d never seen one of these before, nor indeed heard of them. This one was photographed in the trees along the drive while I was in fact looking for another bird altogether…

THICK-BILLED VIREO, one of several vireo species. Believe me, they are much less blurry in real life than here… They chirp a lot and seem quite tame.

BANANAQUIT My second favourite bird (after the western spindalis). Smart black and white heads, yellow underparts, and a sharply curved beak used to pierce the base of flowers for nectar. They aren’t choosy though, and eat insects and fruit too. Very chirpy, and VERY hard to see in the bushes, even when you can clearly hear exactly where you think it must be… Look for moving foliage. This one was in the shrubs by the main staircase.They sound like this (credit Xeno-canto.org)

NORTHERN MOCKING BIRD at a distance… above the skiff park. We heard it singing melodiously. ID (in close up – click on image for a marginally better view) from cocked and slightly spread tail, and (you won’t see this) white wing markings. This species is apparently beginning to displace the larger but unaggressive Bahama Mockingbird.

NORTHERN PARULA Small yellow warbler, of which there are many types. This is the one that unwisely tried to fly into the Great Room through the plate glass, and had to be revived by Sandy. It perked up quite quickly, and flew off none the worse for its encounter either with the glass or Sandy…

HUMMINGBIRDS are a fascinating topic in themselves, and I’ll post about them separately. There is the Cuban Emerald and the endemic Bahama Woodstar, both of which can be seen at Delphi (though the latter are rare where the former predominate). There is a 3rd type of hummer on Abaco, which I will leave you with for now: