Monday, June 02, 2008

This is My Dumpster!

First, let me say that I’ve always preferred the black vulture to the turkey vulture. I think my bias is simply based on how they fly. To me, turkey vultures always look as though they are about to fall out of the sky, rocking back and forth like a kid trying to walk on a fence. Black vultures know how to fly.

The first time I remember seeing one in Pennsylvania was on Hawk Mountain, perhaps 20 years ago. As I recall, it was a slow day, early in the fall season and hawks were in short supply. So, as is common at such times, rather than scanning an empty sky, I was talking to someone, probably catching up on what we’d both been up to since we last saw each other. I remember someone yelled "immature bald eagle"—a conversation stopper if ever there is one. I turned and started scanning the sky, looking past the vultures overheard and not seeing anything that resembled an eagle when the counter calmly told the person who was pointing frantically at a large bird overhead, "that’s a black vulture."

And then I realized that the black vulture overhead did, sort of, fly a bit like an eagle. At least, it didn’t fly at all like a turkey vulture that holds its wings in a characteristic v-shape. By comparison, the black vulture holds its wings flat, like an eagle. The person who’d called "eagle" and who had never seen a black vulture before made the ID based on the flat wings and the bird’s color, figuring that since the bird obviously wasn’t a turkey vulture, it obviously had to be an eagle.
Since then, the ever-warming climate has made the black vulture a fairly common visitor to my area. They are still no where as common as the turkey vulture, but their numbers increase. If I had to guess, I’d say I see a pair of black vultures for perhaps every 30 turkey vultures I see.
Black vultures are different from turkey vultures in a couple of interesting ways other than just in the color of their heads. They are slightly smaller and are considered to be "more social." I would say that if you see one black vulture there is almost certainly a second or even more. Whether these are paired birds or pairs with young, I don’t know. But two together are almost always a given.

Another interesting difference is that while turkey vultures find their dinners based primarily on smell, black vultures, perhaps including the one in today’s photo, find their dinners primarily by eyesight. Further south, where black vultures are more numerous, their social nature could also be termed "pushy," as they have been known to force turkey vultures away from a meal simply by their overwhelming numbers.

Our new world vultures are quite a bit different from their old world cousins. There, vultures are more raptor-like and have raptor-like feet and beaks. Our vultures have chicken-like feet, more adapted to running than tearing dinner apart.


Lynne said...

That is a handsome bird. I've never seen a black vulture, although they are sometimes seen in Minnesota. I will admit to a fondness for turkey vultures. I really do find them quite attractive. I've seen several raised eyebrows when sharing my unpopular opinion!

Thanks for the great info in compairing them to immature bald eagles.

Cathy said...

Hm I wonder if they will move up into my area. Have plenty of turkey ones up here.

Oh I found out what happen to that yellow downy woodpecker. Turns out that the white feather can get stain very easily.

Last Sat, a patron brought back the woodpecker book and I look at the downy one and bingo! there was explaination about the stain feather.

I saw the bird last sat and still this wonderful yellow color to it.