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


83 thoughts on “An Unlikely Infatuation

  1. A few years ago we camped @Goose Island SP. Such a wonderful place! I loved this post on vultures. Birds are such fascinating creatures…. now I will look at Vultures in a different way thanks to you! Cheers! Maureen

    • Thanks…..we’re just a bicycle ride down the road from Goose Island SP. I am definitely enjoying the area and seeing more ‘rare’ birds than I ever imagined or even thought about. Fun trip 🙂

  2. Were you in Goose Island State Park today, out riding my bike and thought I saw you but it took me awhile to figure it out. Really enjoying our time here, Dave has caught 5 sheepshead and seen lots of birds on our bike rides.

    • Yes, I was wearing a pink hoody and visiting Donna in site 112. If this is Faye, the other day I was riding around the State Park looking for your rig and vehicles with Vermont plates. What site are you in?

  3. This was such an interesting post Ingrid. I must admit to knowing very little about the vultures and you have shown us there is much to admire, even if they are not the best “lookers” in the air. Your photography just keeps getting better…gorgeous shots! 🙂

    • I didn’t know much about vultures either until my visit to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. That encounter had me doing a little research. Fascinating creatures serving an important role.
      With practice, I’d say we’re both improving. We’ve come a long way this past year in a multitude of ways 😉

  4. Two Quotes By Edward Abbey, whose love for and admiration of vultures was near to boundless…

    “Let us praise the noble turkey vulture: No one envies him; he harms nobody; and he contemplates our little world from a most serene and noble height.”

    “‎”If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture–that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.”

  5. That they kill other animals might explain why the black vulture doesn’t get along with them. I had a close encounter with a bunch of turkey vultures near the C&O Canal in DC … they are interesting to watch.

    • That’s what I was thinking and I since learned the black vulture is not commonly found throughout the U.S. like the Turkey Vulture. Have you made it to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge?

    • Yes indeed. When they are flying and soaring they are so much more majestic as the focus is on the beautiful wings as opposed to the face 🙂

  6. I really enjoy you blog. Here in Texas we see the buzzards so often we pay little attention to them. The reason they set with their wings spread is so the sun will kill the parasites they pickup from cleaning up the dead animals.
    I am a complete vortect od worthless information, above is just a sample.

    • Thank you and you and my husband have something in common……a wealth of information, some worthless. Yet another tidbit on these interesting birds. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  7. When the Vultures sit in the trees with wings outspread, they remind me of the beginning of an old Horror movie…I really love how they soar high above, catching the wind and sailing on it.. We arrived here at Goose Island, site 112…I thought you were going to get rid of this cold before we came…Hey, at least the sun is out…Stop by if you get a chance.

  8. They are amazing creatures and it’s neat how nature works in such close harmony. Hmmm, Pete is bald and is also a very enthusiastic eater…..I wonder if there’s some correlation here.

    • LOL…..well he’s obviously not related to the ‘black’ vulture, but perhaps closer to the ‘turkey’ vulture. Hmmm, food for thought 😆

  9. The heads simply look prehistoric. A face only a mother could love? I got to see condors in flight down at Big Sur. The grandaddy of the vulture types.

    • I did not know the condors were a form of vulture although that makes a lot of sense. I hear the condors are making a come back. I’m sure they are stunning to watch fly 🙂

      • Thanks to much effort from some really good folks, the California Condor is making a slow comeback. I watched a Nature special on the wildfires in Big Sur, where they are being raised and reintroduced to the wild. The keepers risked life and limb in some truly rugged terrain to move them out of the way of the fire. Quite impressive.

  10. Well, I think they’re quite cute, Ingrid. Someone once told me that the definition of cute is “fascinatingly ugly,” and that’s what they are. 🙂 They are definitely good at what they do, so I guess we should love them. 😕 Great photos!

  11. Great photos even if the subjects are FUGLY!!!! LOL Do try not to get on the menu. There were lots of turkey vultures out in parts of Missouri and whenever I saw them soaring I’d wonder who/what they were after.

    • I just use Picasa, the free Google download. I’m looking into upgrading as I feel I’ve outgrown it, but Picasa works grade for beginners. It’s user friendly and offers minor editing. I usually don’t do much to my photos except crop. Every now and then it’s fun to change a photo to black and white.

  12. They are fascinating to me, too. However, I’m a bit leery because they are known to eat the rubber gaskets of car and rv windows down here in FL.

    • Yikes….. I’d heard similar stories from folks visiting the Everglades. They don’t seem to bother vehicles around here thank goodness. I’ll be keeping an eye out though 🙂

  13. I’m not familiar with turkey vultures. Thank you for sharing the information about the bird, very interesting! Good to know that they live in harmony with other birds and animal. Great photos, Ingrid!

    • Thanks Amy. Until these past few weeks, I had very little to no knowledge about these interesting birds of prey. It has been fascinating to learn about and observe them in their environment.

  14. If you block out the head, the rest of the bird is gorgeous. Those wings are massive. The head on both of these creatures leaves a lot to be desired:)
    Thank goodness they are around to help clean up. A job we all appreciate.

    Thanks for sharing their prettier side and many interesting facts.

  15. What a nice lesson….I learned so much and the beauty is evident with your post. Now when looking at a vulture, I too will see more in such a different light. Nice capture on their massive wing spans.

    • Thanks. Sometimes the beauty isn’t as evident and one needs to look a little harder. I hated growing up in Illinois but now whenever I return, I find the cornfields and run down barns beautiful. Perhaps age has me seeing things in a different light 😉

  16. (Applause in background) You’ve written an excellent post on some fascinating creatures. They are grotesquely majestic, and so useful and necessary to life’s cycle. You are correct about how social they are. They have these impromptu roadside lunch parties with 20 or so birds by turns sampling he venison, while others entertain by hopping a foot off the ground while spreading their wings. They seem to get on together agreeably during the banquets with a minimum of squabbling.

    • Gosh, what a great comment. I could’ve used some of this material for my post. Well said! Wonderful description “grotesquely majestic”. Thanks for such a superb comment with a light sprinkling of humor… it 🙂

    • My interest in the vultures came as a shocking surprise to me. I found myself just standing there watching them in awe. Fascinating creatures!

  17. Love how close you got to these birds. Beautiful pictures. They are quite fascinating–from the bald heads to high acids in their stomachs. I love their wingspans (the turkey vultures).

  18. Love this post… I have an obsession with the vultures … their flying has to be seen to be believed… such beauty in flight yet not the best lookers… when one witnesses an elephant carcass with a good hundred of our species mixed after a meal… the fights that look so vicious are nothing more than shadow boxing and seldom is one hurt… they gorge to such an extent they have to almost climb a tree and overnight before catching the heat thermals the next day… but it is their flight that fascinates me (and we have some big ones with wing spans of up to 2.8 m. [ 9 ft.]) they can fly in looking like a Hercules Lockheed C-130 and drop on a cross the size of a penny… their take offs are fascinating to watch… those on the ground look like the Lockheed running down the runway… the others in trees can take off a few flaps with the wings and onto a thermal and fly up to great heights without any effort… marvelous birds…

    • Agree – marvelous. What a sight to behold to see hundreds feeding. It is truly exquisite to watch these creatures soar and amazing to witness their purpose in life. You may just have me convinced to visit South Africa 🙂

      • Ingrid… you would love it here… you could hire a motor home and tour the country probably cheaper than what you could do it there with our funny money … for every dollar you could get 11 rand…

  19. Amazing photos! The 4th image is fantastic. He looks like he’s striking a pose for you. must say though, birds freak me out unless they are very far away. It probably has something to do with getting “attacked” (I probably had feed in my pockets or something – lol) by chickens and/or roosters when I was a kid. Hearing a vulture hiss would be enough to get me running in the opposite direction! 🙂

    • I wasn’t sure if it was hissing at me or the other vulture. It was interesting to hear and then when I read up on them I learned about the sounds they can and cannot make. I was freaked out at the Wildlife Refuge but over came that uncomfortable feeling by becoming intrigued and fascinated by watching them. One more of life’s little experiences this lifestyle offers….fun times!

  20. Great post, Ingrid. I have only seen these vultures from afar, and you got excellent shots of them ugly…errr…almost cute bird. I think being in the refuge has made you an excellent birder.
    On your way back to AZ be sure to swing by Chiricahua Mountains!

    • You know, I was only at the refuge one time for about 3 hours. All my birding experiences have been by walking or biking around my neighborhood. Very cool. When you guys are ready to head this way, I’ll be sure and share via email. I know you and Steve would enjoy.
      I’m concerned Chiricahua Mountains will still be too cold when we return to Phoenix. I remember your post from last year, but I will be sure to keep an eye out on the weather just in case.

    • As I was doing my research for the post, I did come across info about the black vulture and realized they aren’t common like the turkey vulture. I feel fortunate to have experienced some rare birds around here… vultures, whooping cranes, and the black bellied whistling ducks just to name a few. Thanks for the link 🙂

    • Thanks Brandon. I may just have to venture further west next winter into Florida. You’re state has some pretty interesting birds that I’ll need to add to my collection 🙂

  21. What a great overview and photo’s. I have lived with these birds most of my life. However I now have a new appreciation for these wonderful birds.

    • Every day on my walks or bike rides, I would see these marvelous birds soaring or hanging around with the cranes and cattle….very intriguing. They are a social bunch and I was drawn to them for some odd reason. Isn’t it interesting that they do not kill?

  22. An excellent post! Both the photos and the information is very good. You’d better watch out or you’ll become a serious birder keeping a life list, scouring birding reports, and driving miles out of your way to see a rare bird!

    • I think that whole birding thing is creeping up on me LOL. Now I find myself goggling info on some of these birds. I recently shot some black bellied whistling ducks flying overhead….very cool. Just have to come up with a post for those unique little guys 🙂

    • Yes, as they soar they are so beautiful and their purpose in life is fascinating. I was so surprised to find out the turkey vulture does not kill and to witness how truly social they are. They are not feared by any of the other birds which initially surprised me. 🙂

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