Thursday, January 16, 2014

Keep It Clean

Keep it clean! There are more than twenty species of vultures in the world, according to an article in National Wildlife, “By A Nose”, by Michael Lipske (August/September 2013).   Two species can be seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, and thanks to waste management by these two - Turkey Vultures  and Black Vultures, carrion  is soon disposed of at the Refuge.  You can see them on the job daily, in their search for food, soaring in circles over the Refuge fields or occasionally feeding along roadsides.

Turkey Vulture at HNWR
You can distinguish the two by looking up at their wings; for Turkey Vultures, the trailing edges are white, while for the somewhat smaller Black Vulture, only the wing tips are white.  Of course, if you get a close look, the Turkey Vulture has a red head, and voila’ – the head of the Black Vulture is – black (always an exception – the immature Turkey Vulture also has a black head).

Black Vulture at HNWR
Turkey Vultures breed in the U. S. and are year around residents in primarily the southeastern U.S. and  in Central and South America. 

Some "Cool Facts" about Turkey Vultures, or “TV”s” as they are familiarly known, from Cornell’s All About Birds:
 The Turkey Vulture uses its sense of smell to locate carrion. …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.

The National Wildlife article states that  John James Audubon “proved” in an experiment that Turkey Vultures  were unable to smell; the science of birds’ sense of smell has advanced in the last century and  has shown that birds indeed can smell and that while Turkey Vultures prefer carrion, they want it fresh!
More "Cool 'TV' Facts" from Cornell:
The Turkey Vulture maintains stability and lift at low altitudes by holding its wings up in a slight dihedral (V-shape) and teetering from side to side while flying. It flies low to the ground to pick up the scent of dead animals.
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.
Some "Cool Facts" from All About Birds about Black Vultures, which are found in South and Central America and the southeastern United States,  including parts of Texas, are:

       In the U.S., Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.
Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.
         The oldest Black Vulture on record was at least 25 years, 6 months old.

Thanks to Dick Malnory for photos for this post.

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