Saturday, June 11, 2011

red-headed turkey

red-headed turkey
vulture perched on a dead limb
eyeing carrion

Early in the morning I spot a large dark brown bird standing in the grass between the gravel road and Eddy's Pond. At first it looks like a wild turkey, but the bald head is crimson, not blue, so I quickly identify it as a turkey vulture. The buzzard doesn't stir when I pass by, but when I stop for a closer look, it takes flight, rather awkwardly spreading its six-foot wingspan, and lands on a dead tree branch nearby. There it shifts back and forth between watching me and keeping an eye on its interrupted meal. I am glad it did fly rather than engage in its most spectacular defense tactic. When disturbed it will regurgitate its last meal, surprising its assailant and leaving such a putrid smell that the animal quickly loses interest. I wonder who cleans up that mess! Like their condor cousins, these large raptors are strictly carrion feeders and thus serve an important purpose in nature. They spend hours soaring with their with their wings held in a V-shape, rarely flapping their wings, searching for dead animals. Their beaks and claws are so weak that they never catch live prey, but use their keen eyesight and highly-developed sense of smell to locate carcasses. They're often seen along along rivers where they feast on washed-up fish or on roads where they dispose of roadkill. Because of their slow take-off, they sometimes fall prey to vehicles, where they may become carrion themselves. Hailing the scavenger for being our first-responder crew, I leave it to do its job of cleaning up the crimson remains.

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