Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turkey Vulture

Just spotted what I believe is our first Turkey Vulture of the season. Any time I see these large birds flying overhead, I'm always hopeful it will be an eagle (I wish they would nest in Glenorchy!). When a bird is soaring so high and far away in the air, it can be hard to distinguish. I googled how to tell the difference between a Turkey Vulture and an Eagle if they are flying overhead and found this useful tool.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Soaring Turkey Vulture and Bald Eagle

By zeolite, eHow Member

High-flying turkey vultures and bald eagles can look very similar to us ground dwellers. Here is a fool-proof way to tell the difference between them. No binoculars needed!

1.Look for a head.
If the soaring bird looks headless it is probably a mature bald eagle with the white head and tail. The white head often "gets lost" to our eyes in the bright sky. Eagles mature into their white heads and tails after about 4 or 5 years, before that they are entirely brown (with some white streaks, but look brown while soaring).

Both raptors often soar in the air riding high on thermals. Turkey vultures are looking for delectable carnage to snack on while bald eagles dine on a diet mostly of fish.


Bald Eagle with flat wings. Image from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Look at the angle of the wings, you'll get the best view when the bird is flying towards or away from you.

If the bird's wings are straight across (see image) it is a bald eagle.


Turkey Vulture with "V" shaped wings. Image from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

If the bird's wings make a "V" shape (see image) it is a turkey vulture.

And some more interesting facts from

Turkey Vultures fly with their wings in a dihedral (V-shape). They are most graceful in flight, and can soar for hours at high altitudes without ever flapping their wings. Their occasional necessary flaps and takeoffs are quite laborious, however, and the birds often fall victim to predators and cars as a result.

How the Turkey Vulture Flies:
The turkey vulture is one of the most skilled gliders among the North American birds. It migrates across the continents with minimal energy output. Vultures launch themselves from their perches only after the morning air has warmed. Then, they circle upward, searching for pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. Once they have secured a thermal, they allow it to carry them upward in rising circles. When they reach the top of the thermal, they dive across the sky at speeds near 60 miles per hour, losing altitude until they reach another thermal. All this is done without the necessity to flap. In fact, the turkey vulture can glide for over 6 hours at a time without flapping a wing!


And more amazing facts from the same site:


The Turkey Vultures Sense of Smell:
The turkey vulture is one of the only birds in North America with a sense of smell. This vulture relies both on its keen eyesight and powerful nose to search out food.

Circling Vultures:

Contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a dead animal. Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for long flights, searching for food, or playing.
These birds soar on thermals of warm, rising air. This allows them to best conserve their energy in flight. After rising on the thermal, they glide as far as possible before they need to gain altitude again. They also rely on thermals of warm air to remain aloft while scanning the ground for food.
You will certainly see vultures in the air over a carcass, but in the case of small carcasses, the descent is rapid. As for larger carcasses, while remaining on the lookout for food, vultures are equally attuned to their fellow vultures. They note when others' behavior indicates the discovery of a food source, and will flock to the area. Often, the entire group will remain aloft until sufficient birds have arrived to dispose of the carcass in a timely fashion.
Please note, however, that American vultures are not known to circle a dying animal.

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