‘CARRION SCAVENGING’ (2): TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are causing some comment on FB at the moment, in particular about why they like to stand on utility posts with their wings spread out wide. So, bending my flexible rule against reposts, I am updating a very old TUVU post with lots of new images and facts about this fascinating bird, which manages to be simultaneously majestic, hideous, revolting and socially vital, all packed into a single species…

turkey-vulture

The TUVU is a familiar sight flying over Abaco, 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, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

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 TUVU in-flight photos are indistinguishable).

Turkey Vulture Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

TUVUs 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 generally kill live creatures.turkey-vulture

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus‘ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or in more recent times, ‘very loud Metallica song*‘. TUVUs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay (and consequent release of the chemical ethyl mercaptan) 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… ~~~~~~~~~~~ …alright, OK again now.

Turkey Vulture Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

When they are not flying, feeding, breeding or feeding young, TUVUs 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 that include drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria. Possibly it also reduces the miasma of rotting meat that may surround them after a good meal.

Turkey Vulture Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Equally happy to spread their wings on the ground – a debris-strewn shoreline being idealTurkey Vulture, Abaco Bahamas (Clare Latimer)

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

Leucistic (white) Turkey Vulture, Florida Keys (amy-at-poweredbybirds)

  • 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]

Turkey Vulture headshot Wiki

REVOLTING CORNER / DEPT OF ‘WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION’ 

SQUEAMISH? THEN 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. Maybe don’t park your nice car under one of their perching posts…

Turkey Vulture with carrion (wiki)

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 in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Charlie Skinner)

DIETARY NOTES TUVUs 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 side-salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll often 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 great deal smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread. TUVUs kept the highways clear and work their way round the town dumps recycling noisome items. 

turkey-vulture

FORAGING TUVUs 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’. A pair will fly, with the female closely following the male while they flap & dive… then they land somewhere private and we draw the veil…

Turkey Vulture Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

turkey_vulture2

My favourite graphic of all time

Credits: Nina Henry (1); Bruce Hallett (2); Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 5, 11); Clare Latimer (4, 6); amy-at-poweredbybirds (7);  Wiki, small pics 8, 9); Charlie Skinner (10); Craig Nash (12); Xeno-Canto / Alvaric (sound file); Info, magpie pickings; Birdorable (cartoon); RH (Keep Calm…); depressingnature.com (puking TUVU)

*As Metallica so appropriately wrote and sweatily sang (luckily there’s no verse referencing urination, defecation and puking). ALERT don’t actually play the video – the song hasn’t aged well! In fact… it’s terrible. Woe woe indeed…

The vultures come
See the vultures come for me
Fly around the sun
But now too late for me
Just sit and stare
Wait ’til I hit the ground
Little vultures tear
Little vultures tear at flesh

Warts and all… the gorgeous, hygienic, roadkill-ridding vulture, with a few dirty habitsTurkey Vulture Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

“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…”Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

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)Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

LUBBERS QUARTER CAY        Lubbers Quarters Map

NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EATTurkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

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)

INTERNATIONAL VULTURE AWARENESS DAY ON ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash) 2

INTERNATIONAL VULTURE AWARENESS DAY ON ABACO

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. 

turkey-vulture

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. 

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Charlie Skinnner)

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

Turkey Vulture, Spread Wings, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

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!

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Talking of adorable, this is the perfect place for a shout-out for the wonderful BIRDORABLE site. 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).

photo 1

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 7); Nina Henry (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4); Charlie Skinner (5); Keith Salvesen (6); the incomparable Birdorable

“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.