Turkey Vultures

These incredibly cool animals have been on my mind lately. I happened to pass one nestled in the grass beside a country road the other night. At first I thought it was a wild turkey—we have a lot of those in rural Wisconsin where I live now, and it pays to slow down when you see one. Besides getting a better look at the turkey, you might save your windshield. But when I got close I could see this was a turkey vulture, hunkering down there to eat something—I couldn't tell what. Then, within a couple of days, I came across this account of the species by Dr. W. J. Ralph, who's quoted in Lydekker's New Natural History. (Thanks to D'Arcy for lending me this classic book.):

When they find a dead animal they will not leave it until all (but the bones and other hard parts) has been consumed, and if it be a large one, or if it have tough skin, they will often remain near it for days, roosting by night in the trees nearby. After they have eaten—and sometimes they will gorge themselves until the food runs out of their mouths when they move—they will, if they are not too full to fly, roost in the nearest trees until their meal is partly digested, and then commence eating again. Many times have I seen these birds in company with the black vulture floating down a stream on a dead alligator, cow, or other large animal, crowded so closely together that they could hardly keep their balance, and followed by a number on the wing. In spite of this close crowding, they never seem to fight much when feeding, although one will at times peck and hiss at another; and at times two will tug at a particularly tough fragment, until it either break or the weaker bird gives up his hold.

Turkey vultures occasionally dive-bomb people, particularly people on bikes. In a weird case from 2004, one of them latched onto a guy cruising down a New Jersey highway on a motorcycle. He was trying to fight it off when he crashed into a car and was killed.

Related Post: A Congregation of Vultures



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