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Notes From The Field Blog

Buzzard Trivia

Posted: 3/6/2014
Posted By: Tim Krynak
Original Source: Notes from the Field

Winter is beginning to wane here in Northeast Ohio and, as with every year, our attention turns to the sky as Buzzard Day brings in the promise of spring on the wings of the Hinckley Buzzards! With March 15th right around the corner, the exact date of the yearly arrival of Turkey Vultures coming to roost at Hinckley Ridge, there is no better time to become acquainted with the fun facts about Turkey Vultures.  So, study up and prepare to wow your friends at Buzzard Sunday, March 16th at Hinckley Reservation, with your extensive knowledge of our honored guests.

  1. The word Buzzard, although used specifically for vultures in the U.S., is used as the name for a number of hawk species across Europe. The buzzards gracing Hinckley ridge every spring are of the species Cathartes aura, more affectionately known as turkey vultures.*
  2. In open country, a turkey vulture can see a dead rabbit from 3 miles away.**
  3. On still summer days, a turkey vulture can soar for hours without flapping its wings.**
  4. Turkey vultures lack a syrinx (voice box), can only produce hissing or growling sounds**
  5. Although the vultures found in the Americas look very similar to those found in Europe, having broad wings and bare heads with protected nose cavities, they actually are different species. Through a process known as convergent evolution both species developed similar traits in order to serve the same ecological function (eating of carrion) on different continents. *
  6. The turkey vulture’s bald head allows for it to completely submerge its head into its meal to get the most out of scavenged carrion without making a mess in their hair, while protected nose cavities keep food out of their noses while eating.*
  7. Various religions, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Zoroastrians, consider vultures to be holy creatures used to separate the body from the soul after death. Therefore, they practice what is called a “Sky Burial” where the body of the deceased is given to vultures on a platform. This idea of vultures being revered for cleaning up the dead can be seen in the translation of their scientific name. Cathartes aura has been translated as “Golden Purifier”.*
  8. Turkey vultures have one of the most developed senses of smell in the bird kingdom, allowing them to smell the chemical release of recently decomposing meat while flying over head. **
  9. Turkey vultures have an impressive knowledge of where to find the softest meat in their carrion meals. They are even known to leave the scent glands of a skunk intact while feeding to prevent the release of the skunk’s odor.**
  10. A group of turkey vultures are called a “wake.” One can imagine, while watching them roost with the heads hung low, mourning at a funeral.***
  11. Turkey vultures will, during a hot summer day, cool themselves off by defecating on their feet.***
  12. To gain altitude, groups of turkey vultures will spiral upwards in what known as “Kettles” because of their similar appearance to a pot of boiling water. Turkey vultures have been reported to fly as high as 20,000 feet above ground***
  13. When threatened or disturbed, turkey vultures will vomit at their disturber as a self-defense mechanism. They have been reported to vomit distances up to 10 feet. ***
  14. Turkey vultures have been reported to live up to 24 years, with the average lifespan estimated at 20 years.***

*All About Birds

**The Cleveland Press

***Kern, CA Audobon

Alex Jeffers
Watershed Stewardship Center


3/12/2014 7:50:50 PM by Ted Renner
So beautiful as you look up at them, but so ugly when you see them on the ground close up. A truly spectacular spectacle.
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