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Merry Christmas to Vultures!

Posted Friday, December 14, 2012, at 12:46 PM

Picture by Wikipedia
Last but not least of the three types of birds of prey in our area are vultures. By the way, there are no "buzzards" here. The word buzzard was used in Europe long ago and was used to refer to several different types of hawks. I really don't know why we started calling them buzzards.

We have two distinctly different vultures in this area - the turkey vulture and the black vulture. Turkey vultures are larger, and have a red neck and head; while black vultures are solid black. Vultures have no feathers on their heads. This is because they stick their heads into carrion to pull and tear flesh. It helps with their personal hygiene!

Vultures are kindly referred to as one of nature's trash disposals. There are reasons that they only eat carrion. Vultures are not fast enough to catch live prey, and they don't have talons to use for hunting. Vultures are one of the few bird types that have a good sense of smell, which is how they find their food.

A common myth is that these birds circle overhead to indicate they have found food. This is not true. When they are in this flight pattern, they are simply catching a good thermal wind to help elevate them in the sky more efficiently.

Believe it or not, these are my favorite of the raptors. Seems weird, I know, but they are incredibly smart birds. They are much more intelligent than hawks and owls!

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I just came across this article. Vultures are my favorite raptors too! So much so, that I have written a children's chapter book series extoling the virtues of these beautiful animals. It's called The Goodwill Vultures Club.

-- Posted by willowway on Mon, Sep 23, 2013, at 3:12 PM

Hmmmm....I haven't seen the movie so I will take your word on it.....LOL

-- Posted by wildwoman on Thu, Dec 20, 2012, at 4:09 PM

For some reason, this keeps reminding me of the pickpocket in an early scene in Casablanca who -- even as he's liberating some poor gentleman from his wallet -- is warning the man and his wife to beware of "....Fffultures. Fffultures *everywhere*." I've seen "Casablanca" so many times that lines like that are stuck in my brain.

-- Posted by jcarney on Wed, Dec 19, 2012, at 5:21 PM

The "circling" behavior is definitely not related to carrion. If you have an opportunity when the vultures are lower to the ground and beginning the pattern, watch for a few moments. You will notice that the birds fly increasingly higher. The thermal wind pocket gives them an advantage and makes it less strenuous for the birds.

The main intent is flight, however these birds do see in color, and while flying, may spot patches of red, indicating carrion.

For the most part, they find their food by their sense of smell - you are correct - as a body rots it does produce gases that give off the odor.

The vulture yur mom spotted may have been protecting its meal. Many birds spread their wings as a threat - it makes them appear larger than they are. No doubt this bird thought he could be larger than the car and scare it away!!!

-- Posted by wildwoman on Wed, Dec 19, 2012, at 7:11 AM

i thought when they circle they have found carrion. I have seen them circling and time and time again,when i lived in West Texas there was a dead deer, dog or cattle.

How do they know something is dead? By off gassing, I am guessing??

How long does it take, to attract some?

My mom came across a very large Vulture in her Toyota Corrola one day on a high way between Lubbuck and Abilene, Tx and that vulture would not get out of the road. It spread it's wings and threatened her car. No Joke.

-- Posted by 4fabfelines on Tue, Dec 18, 2012, at 8:43 PM

Vultures do indeed migrate, especially those further to the morth.

On I-24 near the Joelton exit, there is a place where the interstate was blasted through rock. It created a cliff, and it is a favorite place for vultures to rest before heading further south.

In the late fall you can see upwards of 50 vultures roosting together - the black and the turkey inter-mingling.

-- Posted by wildwoman on Tue, Dec 18, 2012, at 8:30 AM

They migrate in groups? Like geese?

-- Posted by stevemills on Mon, Dec 17, 2012, at 6:34 PM

I forgot to mention a couple of interesting tidbits!

Vultures do migrate and when you see them "meeting" that is usually what happens.

Also, since their legs are not particularly strong, most of the nests are built on the ground. Favorite locations for nests are abandoned barns, sheds, etc. When hatched the babies are fluffy white and remain so until they are old enough to grow feathers.

-- Posted by wildwoman on Mon, Dec 17, 2012, at 8:01 AM

I worked with birds of prey for almost 20 years. Most of the birds we worked with were injured adults. Vultures always seemed to adapt quicker to the environment of a rescue hospital.

Some of our birds were not releasable due to the nature of their injuries. When this occurred, we had a large network of zoos/education programs that would permanently place our birds in a program. We started the "acclamating" process and spent extra times with the birds.

I remember one such vulture - we opened his cage in the morning and he would come walking down the hallway to the kitchen for his meals. After eating he would hang around the volunteers while they prepped food. When he got tired he walked back to his cage and waited for someone to secure the door......

-- Posted by wildwoman on Mon, Dec 17, 2012, at 7:58 AM

This is not a one time thing.I was told by an older man that they would not eat a cat at all.I have seen Buzzards avoid road kill cat since I was a young fellow.Maybe it is out of respect for the cat,or they could be saving them for there fiddle strings.

-- Posted by kings11 on Sun, Dec 16, 2012, at 9:40 PM

The bird may have also had a run-in with a bobcat and did not trust if the cat was dead or not. That side stepping motion is what makes me wonder.

What makes you say the buzzard is smarter?

I always thought the high circling was their effort to catch a "whiff" of their next meal.

I always get a kick out of them when they "call a meeting" in some local trees. We had about 35-40 sitting in a tree and on the ground a mile or two from out house. I stopped to see if there was some delicacy in the area, but found nothing.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sun, Dec 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM

I think at times animals can sense things the human eye can not see like poisons or things that would harm them or cause illness....wonder if that was the case with the cat....maybe it had a virus or something wrong with it that could have harmed the bird and the birds sensed it....just wondering!

-- Posted by chefgrape on Sun, Dec 16, 2012, at 12:06 PM

Hi, kings11:

I did not realize they are not partial to cat meat - thanks for the info!

I think we humans don't often think about animals having "opinions" about the way things taste or smell. My guess would be that cat isn't on their top choice of menu items.

I can assure you that if the birds were hungry enough and/or starving - they wouldn't turn their beaks up at cat meat!

-- Posted by wildwoman on Sun, Dec 16, 2012, at 8:07 AM

Why will a Vulture,or Buzzard as we call them not eat a dead house cat? They will eat every other road kill there is,even there own.I always found this interesting about them.I watched some land beside a cat one day and they never touched it,but looked curious at it and flew off.One even started side stepping to get away from it. Hey I guess I'm a Buzzard as I do not like cat either.

-- Posted by kings11 on Sat, Dec 15, 2012, at 5:34 PM

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Vicky Carder is a Shelbyville native. In 1991 she founded Walden's Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Nashville. There she served as Executive Director for more than 12 years. The Center is the largest wildlife hospital in Middle Tennessee. She has published in wildlife national and international journals. Now she wants to share her knowledge of native wildlife and some of the experiences she had while working with wildlife.
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