Vultures…Turkey Vultures… something about the way they look and the way they eat just seems to evoke scary thoughts in people complete with sounds of creepy organ music. Turkey Vultures have come home to roost nightly in our pine trees since December and I just love it! Never knew I would come to like and appreciate the Turkey Vulture so much. So what it’s like to share your yard with a large species of birds?
As you know, Vultures get kind of a bad rap. Not the most pretty bird out there, but having lived nightly with them since December 2016, I’ve grown to love and appreciate them. I even see a beauty all there own in them. Go ahead, laugh. However, it was kind of magical the first time they showed up, hence a little fun with the picture above and a photo filter to make the point!
Sometimes you’ll find, certain birds will take up at your home and stay in your yard. You may wonder why they are there.
- Maybe it’s the trees or shrubbery that draws them there.
- Perhaps it’s your location.
- Are you by a small creek with running water?
- Is there an open field beside your property?
- Is part of your property wooded?
- Do you live near a river or forest?
Well, this is my story, and I’m sticking to it…After getting home from work just after five o’clock, I went inside and changed clothes. My daughter was out mowing over the last of the oak leaves in early December and it was getting dark. She sent me a text from outside informing me to hurry and come outside. Not knowing what the matter was, I went outside in a hurry.
I could hear noises. LOTS of them. We were in the front yard and the low thumping noises were coming from the backyard. Immediately,I recognized the sound…WINGS flapping, and LARGE ones at that! She pointed to the wooded area in her backyard and surely enough, there were about 40 huge Turkey Vultures coming in for a landing in her tall pine trees. Mind you, they didn’t make any audible voice sounds…nothing…except the sound of their large wings flapping.
So where did they come from? And what made them choose our yard to roost in? Were there more coming later?
Night after night at the same time just after sunset, they made the same exact trip. It was like when I turned on the street I live on, they saw my white vehicle and began leaving the town water tower they were perched on to began the ascent down to the pine trees like paratroopers. THEY came home as I was coming home. It was way cool to see!
A Few Facts about Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura)
- Size: 26-32 inches tall, Wingspan 68-72 inches wide
- Voice: They’re usually silent. They lack a voice box but can make hisses, grunts or growls.
- Food: Carrion or dead mammals, but may eat dead reptiles, fish.
- Nests: bare floors in cave-like structures, hollow trees, may nest in the soil and may use that nest for many years.
- Commonly called “Buzzards.”
- They have so much acid in their stomachs that they can eat things that are dead with anthrax, salmonella, or botulism. The service they provide by eating these dead creatures, keeps our environment clean so we and other animals don’t contract those dreadful diseases.
- Are bald on their heads. Their lack of feathers on their heads keeps them from getting food stuck in them as they consume a carcass by inserting their heads into it as they tear it with their beak.
- Have an acute sense of smell. They have the largest olfactory system for a bird, and can detect the smells of rotting flesh from in the air.
- They cannot kill their prey. Their feet look much like that of a chicken and they use their beak to tear the flesh.
- A perched group of them is called a “wake.”
- Like to soar in thermal air currents.
- Average lifespan about 20 years.
- Possess excellent eyesight.
- As we humans have a “septum” behind the bridge of our nose that indeed separates our nostrils, Vultures do not have one. (Note the first photo in this post. You can see the sky through the hole in its beak.) This helps them to keep their nostrils clean as they dig food out of a carcass.
Dining In the Wild (Outside of OUR yard that is!)
Since there is not a plethora of dead things to eat in our yard, they look elsewhere. This is a glimpse of how they dine. I was down at my local creek to check the water depth before kayaking one day and stumbled upon both the Turkey Vulture AND the Black Vulture. I spotted them on the fence post from the parking lot. Having not observed the Black Vulture like I have been able to do with the Turkey Vulture for over 7 months on a daily basis, I was curious about THEM as well. There was a very large catfish carcass about 4 feet long down along the shore that they were feeding on.
This is what was left from the dinner they had of the Catfish. This was one huge fish! The head of this fish was about 10 inches wide!
When Your Yard is Shared with Others
At times, you may have a large group of a certain species of birds hang out in your yard. Birds need food, water and a place to roost or nest. Should you encounter a situation like this, I would assume they are there because of one or more of these are present. Luckily for us, the Turkey Vultures roosted at the back of the property away from the house where their droppings fell to the ground, and not on the house. Even though we started out with about 40 birds nightly roosting throughout the entire winter and early spring, as of this date, July 6, 2017, we only have about 8 -10 that roost here now.
Taking note of a species that’s living in your yard, or roosting will give you a great opportunity to observe many things about them…
- Their behavior at sunrise and sunset
- What they do during stormy weather
- Their behavior with the presence of other birds near them
- A great chance to learn their different songs or calls
- You may get to watch their behavior during courting, their daily vigil when making a nest, sitting on eggs and when their babies fledge.
Never at any time, have we had reason to be scared by the daily presence of these wonderful large birds. We look forward to their return nightly to roost here. We’ve collected many feathers from them that have fallen in the yard, too!
You may not get the opportunity to have Turkey Vultures roosting in your yard, but nevertheless, the opportunity to have several birds live and share your “habitat” may come YOUR way, too. If so, welcome such an opportunity! I have surely enjoyed getting to know THIS species on a daily basis!