A Photo Study Of Some Turkey And Black Vultures
Both Turkey and Black Vultures roost together here in Harleysville (Montgomery County.) Last March, I counted over 350 birds in the trees and on the tower near the intersection of Moyer and Morris Roads. The birds dispersed in the summertime but started to come back again early last November. One morning, three weeks ago, I saw 142 Turkey and 37 Black Vultures. Yesterday, I counted 232 vultures in the trees and fields in the vicinity of Moyer, Morris and Schlosser Roads. There were ~35 Blacks and the balance Turkey! This is the most I have seen since they started coming back last fall.
These birds seem to come and go...some days there are as many as 70 to 80 and this morning there were only five, so there must be an alternate roost somewhere in the area.
This is one of the roosting trees on Richard and Joanne Moyers' property in Harleysville, PA, last week.
Turkey Vulture At The Harleysville Roost January 2009
Black Vulture At The Harleysville Roost January 2009
The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is one of North America's largest birds of prey. It reaches a length of 32 inches, a weight of 5 1/2 pounds, with a wing span of 6 feet. Its overall color is brown-black with a featherless, red head, white bill and yellow feet among mature adults. Immature birds have a darker face. Although usually silent, the bird will occasionally emit a soft hiss or groan.
In flight, the Turkey Vulture rocks from side to side, rarely flapping its wings which are held at a V-angle called a dihedral. Silver-gray flight feathers look lighter than the black lining feathers of the underwing. Its long tail extends beyond its legs and feet in flight.
Vultures are best known for their practice of feeding on dead animal carcasses, but will occasionally attack young and helpless animals as well. They obtain much of their water from the moisture of carrion, and their powerful kidneys enable them to excrete less water when expelling waste products.
Turkey Vultures, like other carrion birds, are protected from disease associated with decaying animals by a very sophisticated immune system. Their unfeathered "bald" head is easy to keep clean and is characteristic of vultures and condors throughout the world.
One to three blotched eggs are laid in hollows, logs or among rocks on the ground; no nest is built. Both parents participate in incubation of the eggs for up to a month. Newly hatched young are fed with regurgitated food for the first few days and fly from the nest within 10 weeks.
This photograph of three Turkey Vulture chicks was taken by Hannah Smith earlier this
year on her parents’ (Vicky and Richard Smith) Maple Knolls Farms in Buckingham, PA.
Unlike most birds, Turkey Vultures have a keen sense of
smell. The Turkey Vulture's olfactory sense is estimated to be
3 times that of the smaller Black Vulture, which is also found here in Pennsylvania.
The Black Vulture or American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is a bird whose range extends from the southeastern United States to South America. It reaches a length of 28 inches, a weight of 5 pounds, with a wing span of 5 1/2 feet. It has a somewhat more restricted distribution than its compatriot, the Turkey Vulture which breeds well into Canada and south to Tierra del Fuego. Despite the similar name and appearance, this species is unrelated to the Eurasian Black Vulture. The Eurasian Black Vulture is an Old World Vulture in the family Accipitridae which includes eagles, hawks, kites and harriers. The American Black Vulture species is a New World Vulture unrelated to the eagles and hawks. It is the only extant member of the genus Coragyps, which is in the family Cathartidae. It inhabits relatively open areas which provide scattered forests or shrublands. With a wingspan of five feet, the Black Vulture is a large bird though relatively small for a vulture. It has black plumage, a featherless, grayish-black head and neck, and a short, hooked beak.
The Black Vulture is a scavenger and feeds on carrion but it will also eat eggs or kill newborn animals. In areas populated by humans, it also feeds at garbage dumps. It finds its meals either by using its keen eyesight or by following Turkey Vultures which possess a keen sense of smell. The Black Vulture lacks a syrinx…the vocal organ of birds. Its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. It lays its eggs in caves or hollow trees or on the bare ground, and generally raises two chicks each year, which it feeds by regurgitation.
In the United States, both vultures receive legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The California Condor, now almost extinct, is the third member of the Cathartidae Family, referred to as the American Vultures. Vultures are sometimes mistakenly called buzzards, the British name for buteos -- hawks of the Buteo genus.
Vultures are truly the masters of the thermal. They have been known to glide eight miles without flapping their wings. I love watching them soar above us because they are so very beautiful in flight. Vultures are non-aggressive and harmless to man. As a matter of fact, vultures provide tremendous economic value by cleaning up carrion and road kills, not only saving the taxpayer lots of money, but, in addition, removing serious health hazards.
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