When I was a young girl, many, many years back, my Mother and I frequently picked wild strawberries as a special summer treat for this night’s dessert. On one occasion, as I bent down to loosen a bunch of sweet little red berries from their stemsout of the corner of my eye something grabbed my attention. I looked beyond our neighbor’s house, and into the skies over’Sugar Hill’, where I had enjoyed watching a lot of awesomely beautiful sunsets. A large dark bird with an impressive wingspan was moving quietly and slowly, circling in the skies over the mountain.
“What IS that, Mother?” My mom stopped picking berries and stood upright, shading her eyes from the bright sunlight. “Oh”, she said with a positive note,”that is a turkey vulture riding a thermal.”
Gentle, affectionate and dedicated parents
Don’t spread any diseases at all, contrary to popular beliefs
Crucial part of Nature’s cleanup crew
Perform removal of carcasses before they can become diseased
Purify environment by removing animal cadavers that are already infected
Considered sacred in certain cultures for their gift of sanitizing
Enjoy soaring on high with hot thermals to lift them upward
Resemble wild turkeys with their reddish featherless head, dark body and two-tone wings
While those are clear responses, I fear they’re based on pictures conjured up by Hollywood Westerns.
The black vultures most often seen from the west and south throughout Mexico are really competitive.
Common all over america, it’s the turkey vulture which uses its highly developed capacity to detect the stench of cadavers, even at great distances. These large eagle-sized birds game distinctive two-toned wings which are dark brown, with silvery gray feathers on their wing borders.
Turkey vulture heads are small and featherless for an excellent reason. Consider it–similar to workmen dress for the job, these birds do exactly the contrary. They undress (their heads) to the job at hand. If their noggins had feathers, they would find all gummed up when they dove into carcasses. It is not pretty, but it is true. Vultures would be spending far too much of their time preening and cleaning rather than filling their bellies. The smaller head size enables them to get into all the nooks and crannies where the meat is. In the bird world, efficacy most often translates into survival.
When the young hatch out of their camouflaged eggs, they are powerless to defend or feed themselves. Their parents are aware for potential predatory attacks, and they’re adept at providing loads of food for their downy chicks to another 60 to 80 days.
In some cultures they’re revered as cleansers and sprays. Buddhists think they have the capability to release the soul and take it to Heaven. So it’s a routine practice to provide their deceased to vultures for’cleansing’ and delivery into the firmament, also called’sky burials’.
Their scientific name, Cathartes aura, really translates to ‘purifying breeze’ or’gold purifier’. Both of the interpretations is more precise than the term’vulture’, which means to rip.
They’ll take turns, as opposed to fight over bits and pieces of flesh. Other birds, such as the black vultures and hawks, find it easy to push them away out of their own finds.
Possessing excellent immune systems prevents them from contracting any nasty diseases from the dead creatures they ingest. When roosting on the floor or atop a dead tree stump, they spread their wings outward with their backs to the sun to help rid them of parasites contracted by their food resources.
If they feel afraid or threatened they regurgitate (frequently at the direction of the perceived threat). This offensive action repels, and takes their attacker by surprise, with the sight and odor that is horrible. Additionally, it serves to lighten the load for a faster get away!
The unfounded fears that turkey vultures spread disease frequently prompts intentional shootings and unkind poisonings and trappings. However, these birds keep the surroundings clean and disease free, as opposed to the reverse.
The much maligned Turkey Vulture serves a noble goal. We will need to look beyond the superficial idea of beauty, and provide the Turkey Vulture that the reverence it has rightfully earned and deserves.