“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO
Lubbers Quarters is a Cay off the southern tip of Elbow Cay, and home to the excellent Cracker P’s restaurant. Also, home to Larry Towning, who takes terrific sunrise and sunset photos, among other subjects that include birds. He recently happened upon a Turkey Vulture sitting on a POISONWOOD stump (do not rush to try that – you may not sit down again for weeks). I like the immediacy of these. Most TUVU shots – by me, anyway – are (a) flying – usually coming out as silhouettes; or (b) atop a utility post with wires in the way, or (c) on the ground scavenging something revolting in the way of carrion. This bird is only dreaming about doing that.
“WARTS AND ALL…”
The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can right see through (and as I have previously noted, some humans also suffer from MSS – missing septum syndrome. They tend to sniff a lot)
LUBBERS QUARTER CAY
NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EAT
To read much more about Turkey Vultures, find a bundle of interesting facts and learn about their sex lives and frankly disgusting habits with urine and vomit, check out‘CARRION SCAVENGING‘.
Photo credit: Larry Towning; Tropicat (Poisonwood link)
The compilation of The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO involved making a few rules and sticking to them. For example, the avian images in the book – and there are a great many – had to be of birds actually photographed on Abaco or in Abaco waters. Gorgeous pictures from Grand Bahama or New Providence were ruthlessly excluded, however painful it was to do. Some wonderful spoonbill photos taken in Nassau stayed in the ‘Not Use’ folder. The temptation to slip in an non-Abaco whimbrel to fill a whimbrel-shaped space among the shorebirds had to be resisted – even though at the time the last recorded sighting of one on Abaco (no photo) was in 2000…
Another important restriction was the stipulation that we would only use birds that had been photographed in their natural surroundings, defined as being a place where a particular species might naturally be found. Coppice and shoreline, obviously, but this included utility wires, posts and docks etc for species that habitually use them to perch on or hunt from. However, the rule meant a complete embargo on feeder photos, however winsome a hummingbird might look as it sips sugar water. We extended the principle to include a ban on luring birds into camera-shot with seed or corn trails; and similar ruses beyond the simple whistles and pishes that anyone might use to tempt a bird out of deep cover.
Cuban Emerald coming in to land… and feeding
The Delphi club is the perfect location for an enviably varied number of species. Its remoteness down a one-mile drive from the Highway, with pine forest giving way to luxuriant coppice, ensures minimal disturbance for the birds including a number of rarer species.
The one-mile white sand curve of the beach sees many shorebirds and seabirds in all seasons. The gardens attract both the usual suspects and less common birds. The building, too, has its resident West Indian Woodpeckers in two nesting boxes under the eaves, thoughtfully provided to discourage the Club’s woodwork from exploratory drilling.
Mr and Mrs Black-faced Grassquit
There are a number of seed and sugar water feeders around the place, and bird baths too. It’s a long time since I featured a collection of ‘tame’ birds. This post shows a few of the species that have made Delphi their home.
Mr and Mrs Greater Antillean Bullfinch
Mr and Mrs Painted Bunting
Bananaquit: the curved beak makes it easy to use the hummer feeder (see above)
A Gray Catbird takes a drink… and a bath
Adaptive behaviour from a W I Woodpecker – that long tongue is perfect for the job
The turkey vulture takes priority over all smaller birds…
A red-legged thrush enjoys picking up the seed shrapnel off the ground…
As do rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings
Meanwhile, a yellow-crowned night heron takes a drink from the pool
Credits: all photos RH except aerial shot of Delphi, Peter Brown; the hummers, Peter Mantle; and the buntings / grosbeaks, PM and Caroline Stahala…
Majestic. Soaring. Graceful. Revolting. That’s the Turkey Vulture. It’s quite a while since I posted about them: you can read all about them and their disgusting habits in the post CARRION SCAVENGING. You’ll discover 10 essential facts, their unpleasant little ways with urine and puke, the sound they make, some sex-tips and a Metallica video.
Are you unaware of vultures? Well, today is their day. These dedicated bird days come thick and fast at certain times of year. Tomorrow we celebrate World Shorebirds Day, so I’m giving the vultures their time in the sun today. On Abaco you could hardly fail to be aware of the ubiquitous TVs, and I have chosen a selection of photos, all taken on Abaco, to make a gallery for their day.
Let’s start with some of the more glamourous ‘in-flight’ shots. This is when TVs look their best, as they wheel round floating and swooping on the thermals – singly, in pairs or in flocks.
At closer quarters TVs are till impressive, though arguably less attractive… TVs often use utility wires (header image) or posts to perch on, scope out the territory, or simply to dry their wings
TVs will never be truly adorable. The final image (by Irish photographer Craig Nash) is truly ‘warts and all’… Ah, but look at the sweet little hairs on its head!
Talking of adorable, this is the perfect place for a shout-out for the wonderfulBIRDORABLEsite. For this special day they have put all their vultures together in one helpful chart. They have a load of fun at Birdorable HQ. You can download birds for children to colour in. Or even get a T-shirt with your favourite bird on it (mine’s a PIPL).
Credits: Craig Nash (1, 7); Nina Henry (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4); Charlie Skinner (5); Keith Salvesen (6); the incomparable Birdorable
BAHAMAS STAMPS & ABACO BIRDS: ‘IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PHILATELY’
The Bahamas produces frequent issues of wildlife stamps. Mostly birds, but also reef fish and sea creatures, animals, butterflies and flowers. I am gradually collecting an album of Bahamas wildlife stamps on aPHILATELYpage. I’ve been having a look at a 16-bird issue from 1991 which reflects the wide diversity of species extremely well. Here is the set, with comparative photos of each bird. All but one were taken on Abaco, the rare Burrowing Owl being the exception. All the other 15 birds may be found on Abaco as permanent residents, either easily or with a bit of a look and some luck. I personally have not seen the Clapper Rail (though I saw aSORA) or the rarer Key West Quail-Dove.
The bird list and image credits
Green Heron Butorides virescens Nina Henry
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura RH (Delphi)
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus RH (Marls)
Clapper Rail Rallus longirostris Erik Gauger
Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus RH (Marls)
Key West Quail-Dove Geotrygon chrysia Becky Marvil
“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 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
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).
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…
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 aSYRINX(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.
They are equally happy to spread their wings on the ground, the shoreline being ideal
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 asUROHIDROSIS.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”
DIETARY NOTESTVs 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.
For more about Turkey Vultures, including cool videos, visitDEAR KITTY
It’s possible you may enjoy a visit to max-out-cute Birdorable. Click TV below for link
And if you’d prefer something TV but less cute, depressingnature.com has the thing for you…
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.
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…
HUMMINGBIRDSare 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: