When I was a young girl, many, many years ago, 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 cluster of sweet little red berries from their stalks, from the corner of my eye something caught my attention. I looked past our neighbor’s house, and into the sky above’Sugar Hill’, where I had enjoyed watching so many awesomely beautiful sunsets. A large dark bird with an impressive wingspan was moving quietly and slowly, circling in the sky over the hill.
“What IS that, Mom?” My mother stopped picking berries and stood upright, shading her eyes from the bright sun. “Oh”, she said with a positive note,”that is a turkey vulture riding a thermal.”
The truth about turkey vultures:
Gentle, affectionate and dedicated parents
Do not spread any diseases at all, contrary to popular beliefs
Essential 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 some cultures for their gift of sanitizing
Enjoy soaring on high with hot thermals to lift them ever upward
Resemble wild turkeys with their red featherless head, dark body and two-tone wings
When you think of vultures, what images come to mind? Lazy, dirty, aggressive, morbid harbingers of death? Want to call Cocoa Raccoon Removal for removal? While those are clear responses, I fear they are based on images conjured up by Hollywood Westerns.
The black vultures most often seen from the west and south throughout Mexico are indeed competitive.
Common all over the United States, it is the turkey vulture that uses its highly developed ability to detect the stench of cadavers, even at great distances. These large eagle-sized birds sport distinctive two-toned wings which are dark brown, with silvery gray feathers on their wing edges.
Turkey vulture heads are small and featherless for an excellent reason. Think about it–much like workmen dress for the job, these birds do the opposite. 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’s 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, efficiency most often translates into survival.
When the young hatch out of their camouflaged eggs, they are helpless to defend or feed themselves. Their parents are ever watchful for potential predatory attacks, and they are adept at providing loads of food for their downy chicks for the next 60 to 80 days.
Vultures are an elegant part of Nature’s cleanup crew. In some cultures they’re revered as cleansers and sprays. Buddhists believe they have the ability to release the soul and take it to Heaven. So it is a routine practice to offer their deceased to vultures for’cleansing’ and delivery to the firmament, also known as’sky burials’.
Their scientific name, Cathartes aura, actually translates to either’purifying breeze’ or’gold purifier’. Either of those interpretations is more accurate than the word’vulture’, which means to tear.
Turkey Vultures are gentle creatures, despite their ghoulish reputations. They’ll take turns, as opposed to fight over bits and pieces of flesh. Other birds, such as the smaller 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 animals they ingest. When roosting on the ground or atop a dead tree stump, they spread their wings outward with their backs to the sun to help rid them of parasites contracted from 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. Plus, it serves to lighten the load for a faster get away!
The unfounded fears that turkey vultures spread disease often prompts intentional shootings and unkind poisonings and trappings. However, these birds keep the surroundings clean and disease free, rather than the reverse.
All living things have a role on this Earth. The much maligned Turkey Vulture serves a noble purpose. We will need to look past the superficial idea of attractiveness, and give the Turkey Vulture that the reverence it’s earned and deserves.