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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the “Turkey Vulture”

Apr 06, 2016 11:28AM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the “Bird of the Week”. The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird. This week’s bird is the ““Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)”.

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Bryan Brillhart Photography

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

This Weeks “Bird of the Week” is the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), also known in some North American regions as the turkey buzzard. A familiar sight in the sky over much of North America, is the dark, long-winged form of the Turkey Vulture, soaring high over the landscape. Most birds are believed to have a very poor sense of smell, but the Turkey Vulture is an exception, apparently able to find carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, by odor.

Turkey Vulture populations were thought to have declined during the 20th century in parts of North America, but current populations are apparently stable and widespread over open country, woods, deserts, and foothills. They are most commonly seen over open or semi-open country, especially within a few miles of rocky or wooded areas providing secure nesting sites. They generally avoid densely forested regions. Unlike the Black Vulture, they regularly forage over small offshore islands.

Turkey Vultures seek carrion by soaring over open or partly wooded country, watching the ground and watching the actions of other scavengers. They can also locate some carrion by odor, and unlike most birds, have a well-developed sense of smell. They feed mainly on dead animals, preferring those recently dead (that is, relatively fresh carrion), occasionally feeding on decaying vegetable matter, live insects, or live fish in drying-up ponds.

As a part of pair formation, several birds gather in a circle on the ground, and perform a ritualized hopping movement around the perimeter of the circle with wings partly spread. In the air, one bird may closely follow another, with the two birds flapping and diving. 

Nest sites are in sheltered areas, such as inside hollow trees or logs, in crevices in cliffs, under rocks, in caves, inside dense thickets, or in old buildings. Little or no nest is built. Eggs are laid on debris or on the flat bottom of the nest site.

After mating, females lay 2, sometimes 1, rarely 3 whitish, blotched with brown and lavender eggs. Incubation is by both parents, usually 34-41 days. One parent remains with young much of the time at first. Both parents feed the young, by regurgitation. If the young are approached in the nest, they defend themselves by hissing and regurgitating. Age of young at first flight is about 9-10 weeks.

Look for this scavenger slowly soaring overhead in our own Tijuana Estuary. They can be commonly seen there. Just look up! Until next week, happy birding!

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