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One of our permanent residents here is often thought of as a Bird of Prey. By all appearances, he surely looks like one. In the wild, this bird is frequently mistaken for an eagle as it soars the wide open skies on its great wingspan. I am referring to the Turkey Vulture, nicknamed a Buzzard by many. Turkey Vultures are not hawks or raptors at all, but are related to the Storks. They do not have talons for capturing and killing prey - instead, their feet are rather weak. These large birds are nature's sanitary engineers, designed to clean up decaying carcasses of dead animals which they locate with their keen vision, while riding thermals and updrafts, soaring effortlessly over fields and highways. Turkey Vultures, unlike most other birds, also use their keen sense of smell to find food. (Birds, in general, have a poorly developed sense of smell). This is another creature who fills its niche in the natural world perfectly. Their unique adaptations allow them to consume bacteria and botulism that would kill other animals and humans at even a fraction of the amount ingested by the vultures. Their bare heads allow them to reach inside decaying carrion, without soiling feathers. Not cute or cuddly, this bird is another necessary, efficient part of a whole - a link in the food chain.
Our Turkey Vulture has met the fate of many. He was struck by a car, as he found highways offered an easy opportunity for a meal. His injury was too severe to allow him flight - ever again. He enjoys a meal of thawed, frozen rats or chicks, daily. Would you believe he shares his pen here at the center with a pheasant, Screech Owl, Kestrel and Crow?! Remember - he is only interested in dead things. By the way, Turkey Vultures head south in late fall each year, to warmer climates where unfrozen food is available. They return to our Ohio skies in early March, some sooner, riding the spring thermals and beginning their jobs as "road clean-up crews". Even though some Turkey Vultures have wing spans as great as our Bald Eagles, they are easy to distinguish. Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a dihedral or shallow "V" when soaring, and rock from side to side. Bald Eagles hold their wings nearly flat in flight and do not rock. Remember, immature Bald Eagles are all dark or mottled and won't wear the white head and tail until age 4-6. Lots of juvenile Bald Eagles are mistaken for Turkey Vultures!
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