As we were leaving the Falkland Islands a huge bird landed on the control panel on the bridge wing outside. We often have birds landing on ships, but normally they are small diving petrels or prions which are attracted to the lights on ships. Well, I was in for a surprise when I was called to the bridge to see the latest bird that had landed on our ship, it was none other than a turkey vulture. These birds normally soar with thermals (air that heats up, becomes less dense and starts to rise, giving the bird the lift it needs to fly without using too much energy). There was a strong wind blowing that day and the bird had obviously been blown away from the islands where it normally lives. I took some photos from inside the bridge, but when we were close to him, he flew to the other side of the bridge. He could clearly fly, but was using us as a resting platform before trying to get back to the Falklands. The next day he was nowhere to be found, so we can only surmise that he left us and made his way home.
I am putting in two photos that I took of the vulture and I have taken some really cool facts from a couple of websites which will show you what an amazing bird this is.
|Scientific Name:||Cathartes aura|
|Population Status:||Least Concern|
|Body Length:||25-32 inches (63-81 cm)|
|Wingspan:||5-1/2 to 6-1/2 feet (1.6-2 m)|
|Weight:||2 to 4-1/2 pounds (0.9-2 kg)|
Did you know?
- The word vulture likely comes from the Latin vellere, which means to pluck or tear. Its scientific name, Cathartes aura, is far more pleasant. It means either “golden purifier” or “purifying breeze.”
- Not everyone sees vultures as a creepy harbinger of death—many see them as sacred for their cleanup role. Tibetan Buddhists practice “sky burials,” where animals, usually vultures, consume their dead. Similarly, Zoroastrians offer their dead to be consumed by vultures on a raised platform, called a dakhma. They regard vultures are precious animals that release the soul from the body. However, in parts of urban India, where vultures have become scarce because of accidental poisoning by a livestock anti-inflammatory drug, not enough vultures remain to meet the demand and some people have turned to burial.
- In cowboy movies the bad guy usually threatens to leave the hero in the desert for the buzzards, meaning the vultures. Although buzzard is a colloquial term for vulture in the U.S., the same word applies to several hawks in Europe. In fact, the Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) of Europe is the same species as the Rough-legged Hawk of North America
Amazing sense of smell
- The Turkey Vulture is one of the few birds able to use its sense of smell to locate food. Though Turkey Vultures have a lot in common with other New World Vultures (vultures found in the Americas), they do have a very unique characteristic that is all their own. They have an amazing sense of smell, which they use to detect dead animals, sometimes from quite far away. Look at a Turkey Vulture’s nostrils, or nares, and you will notice that their nasal passage is completely open on each end. This is a characteristic New World vultures share, which other raptors don’t have.
- The part of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large, compared to other birds. Its heightened ability to detect odors—it can detect just a few parts per trillion—allows it to find dead animals below a forest canopy.
- Turkey Vultures don’t have a voicebox. They can’t sing or call. Their vocalizations are limited to hisses and grunts.
- Though they look awkward and ungainly on the ground and must work hard to gain flight, they are graceful and elegant in the air, soaring in beautiful teetering flights across the sky. They rarely need to flap their wings.
- They say “the early bird catches the worm” so it is lucky that Turkey Vulture don’t rely on worms to survive. Turkey Vultures are not early morning fliers, which has more to do with their flying style than anything else. When vultures fly, they tend not to flap their wings very much. Rather, these large birds spend most of their time soaring on rising air currents, called thermals, in search of food, or simply traveling from one place to another. Thermals are caused by warm air rising, which occurs later in the morning after the sun rises, so Turkey Vultures have the perfect excuse for “sleeping in.”
- Once a Turkey Vulture is up and soaring, it is almost unmistakable due to its distinctive flight pattern. These birds are easy to identify as they teeter gently from side to side with their wings held open in a slight “V” shape.
- Vultures in the Americas look a lot like the vultures in Europe, Asia, and Africa, with broad wings, bare heads, and the habit of eating dead meat. But surprisingly, they’re in different taxonomic families, meaning they’re not particularly closely related. They evolved many of the same features as they exploited the same kinds of resources in different parts of the planet. This process is known as convergent evolution.
Feeding and their featherless heads
- Turkey Vultures have featherless heads. When feeding, vultures sometimes need to stick their heads deep into the cavities of dead animals to get to the juiciest bits! At times like these, a bald head is very useful – otherwise bits of flesh, blood, or other fluids might get stuck on their feathers, creating quite a mess. Though vultures spend a lot of time preening, or cleaning their feathers, it would be impossible for them to clean their own heads. A Turkey Vulture’s bald head also makes it easy for us to identify. a bright red head and pale beak are distinguishing characteristics of this species.
- Turkey Vultures are almost entirely carrion eaters, which means they feed on animals that are already dead. They have been documented killing very weak or very sick animals, but this is rare. They are not a threat to livestock or pets. Though the vultures prefer to feed on medium to large animals, such as deer or sheep, they can be found in roads feeding on road-killed animals as small as squirrels and lizards.
- When searching for a meal, they often fly low over an area, using their sight and acute sense of smell to find food. Vultures are social feeders, which means many vulture species might join together to feed on a large carcass. Other scavenger birds, such as eagles and ravens, might join the feast as well.
Keeping cool – would you pee down your legs?
- In addition to their bald heads, Turkey Vultures have other unique adaptations. To keep cool, Turkey Vultures will sometimes pee on their own legs! This is called “urohydrosis” and they do it for two reasons. First, because Turkey Vultures don’t sweat like we do, they need a way to cool off in hot weather. When the urine evaporates from their legs, it has a cooling effect. Second, their urine contains properties that might help kill any bacteria on their legs and feet that they may have picked up when walking all over their dinner. Though it might seem gross to us, it actually helps keep the vultures clean.
I took this information from two very good websites which can be accessed using the links below