An Unlikely Infatuation

turkey vultureI’ve developed a fascination or rather an unlikely infatuation with vultures. Ever since my close encounter with the vultures at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge I find myself drawn to these unique birds.

On my daily walks to try and photograph the endangered whooping cranes, there they are; either circling the skies in search of prey or hanging around drying their wings.  These are Turkey Vultures, easily distinguished by their small red head.birds of preybirds of preyOne’s initial thoughts might be, “Gosh, they’re ugly”.  A few weeks ago I would’ve agreed, but after some lengthy, close observation I find them to be quite beautiful.  I say that even after one hissed at me.  Because the Turkey Vulture lacks a syrinx, they are nearly silent.  Their vocalizations are limited to grunts and hisses, no harmonic singing from these guys.

This particular day I observed a group of vultures cleaning up the remains of a duck and perhaps I was getting a little too close to their prey, thus the little hisses.birds of preyOne of the vultures attempted to drag the remains of the duck out of my reach to no avail.  Vultures have weak feet and legs and therefore they do not carry prey back to their chicks.  Instead they will gorge on a carcass and regurgitate food to feed their young….oh, yum!birds of prey

As I watch the vultures feed on the deceased duck, I’m not grossed out.  I’m intrigued by the exquisite system of the universe….the circle of life so to speak.  This particular vulture does NOT kill.  They are rather picky eaters and avoid putrefying dead animals, preferring their food to be recently dead.  They then swoop in and clean up.  They do the dirty work so to speak.birds of prey

Most vultures are bald or almost bald so they can keep their heads clean when tearing apart a carcass.  Their stomach acid is significantly stronger and more corrosive than other animals or birds allowing these scavengers to feed on prey that may be riddled with bacteria.vultures

The Turkey Vulture has excellent eye sight and a sense of smell to help locate food.  They can find a dead animal from a mile away.turkey vulture

My close encounter with vultures at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge consisted of both the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture.  The Turkey Vultures were much quicker to fly off as I approached the viewing platform.  It was the Black Vultures that allowed me to get very close.

Birds of preyThe Black Vulture sports a gray, wrinkly skinned head and DOES kill prey. They will attack weak live animals and will also eat eggs.  They are dominate over the Turkey Vulture and will quite often steal prey from them.

Hmm, perhaps that’s why the Black Vultures allowed me to get so close…..they were sizing me up to sense any weakness.  Yep, those talons were itching to rip something apart.  I’m just glad it wasn’t me.

birds of prey

I have a feeling the Black Vultures don’t get along with other animals as well as the Turkey Vultures do because the only place I’ve seen them is at the refuge. The Turkey Vultures appear to live in harmony with other birds and animals.   I see them daily hanging with the cranes or around the cattle.birds of prey

As I watch them circle and soar in the sky, they appear majestic and not at all ugly.  They have a unique beauty and offer a special service by doing the dirty work of cleaning up.  What an exquisite system.  All of God’s creatures have a purpose and a beauty  🙂

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors (Crossley Id Guides)
American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America Western Region