Turkey Vulture

So from mid-spring (sometimes a little earlier) through basically mid/late fall I will usually see at least one turkey vulture soaring in the sky above Boomer Lake and the surrounding neighborhoods (including ours). On walks at Boomer Lake, I can usually spot one or two soaring on the jet streams high above the lake, and if I’m lucky–I can catch the glimpse of one sitting in the trees.

Turkey Vulture soaring over Boomer Lake

Turkey vultures have feathers that appear black in the distance, but are actually a very dark brown when viewed up close. Their most distinguishing features are their featherless red heads and pale beaks.

Turkey Vulture looking out over Boomer Lake Creek

Turkey vultures are found within most of the lower 48 states, and in the summer they can also be spotted within certain areas of Canada.

Turkey Vulture migration map. Map (c) birds of the world.

They be found within some states only during breeding season (such as Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Michigan, and Vermont), and other states year round (such as Virginia, the Carolinas (north and south), Mississippi, and Georgia). There area also some states where they can be either residents or migratory (such as California, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, and Indiana).

Within those states you can probably spot them soaring in the skies as they look/smell for their next meal. They prefer open areas (fields, landfills, parks, and so forth) that give them easy landing and taking off access.

Turkey vulture through the branches

I have been lucky to spot them soaring in the skies over the local lake (Boomer Lake) and the surrounding neighborhoods. Occasionally, I will also see one land in the middle of the street if a opossum or other medium-large animal has been hit by a car.

Turkey vultures eat carrion with their main preference being dead mammals. Though they will also feed on dead reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish. While they feed on carrion, their beaks are actually weak in terms of being able to rip into the animal. Therefore they may have to wait either several hours for the flesh to soften in order to rip into the carcass, or another animal to tear into it before feeding.

Turkey vulture stretching it wings

They have a good variety of pathogenic gut flora that help them break down the decaying tissues without contracting any potential disease (such as botulism, anthrax, cholera, or salmonella).

One of the more fascinating tidbits about turkey vultures (apart from the pathogenic bacteria in their gut), is that they don’t actually build ‘normal’ nests. If they come across an abandoned nest of a hawk or heron, they may make use of it–but otherwise they may nest in crevices, caves, on ledges, in thickets or hollow logs. Basically, they try to find areas away from their feeding areas (so places of little human disturbances).

If possible, they will dig a small indention in the ground to ensure that the egg (or eggs) are ‘stable’ and aren’t rolling around–but that is the extent of their ‘nest building’.

My photography goals in terms of the turkey vulture are: getting a picture of one (or several) feeding, getting a picture of a youngster, and possibly a good picture of a group sitting around at the top of dead trees.

Reference: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/turkey_vulture