Thursday, December 20, 2012


Vultures, being very dark, are difficult to film. Sunny day or cloudy, I almost always try to give them more exposure than the camera calls for. If you use a normal setting, the bird will invariably appear too dark.  This photo of a Turkey vulture is one of the better ones I have taken. All vultures have featherless heads to keep from having carrion stick to them. The head of the Turkey Vulture is red while that of the Black Vulture is black. Notice how you can see sky right through their nasal passage. You can't tell from this photo, but the primary feathers are white underneath.

The Black Vultures, by contrast, display white feathers at the tips of their wings. They have a shorter, broader tail and you can see two toenails extending a little beyond the tail in this photo. Black Vultures seem to use more energy to fly as they have a shorter wingspan and do a lot more flapping than Turkey Vultures.

We have probably all seen how vultures will cooperate in searching for food by spreading out over a wide area and soaring. Turkey Vultures are a little better at spotting dead animals, but they also locate carrion by smell. On the river, the vultures spend a lot of time over water, which I always thought was odd since they cannot land in the water or pick anything up with their feet. Perhaps, though, they are eyeing both shores at the same time.

One morning, a flock of Black Vultures had found a large, dead catfish on the shoreline and proceeded to dispose of it - their gift to humanity.  There were actually more than three in this flock but only three were visible when I took these photos. The "nail" at the end of their beak helps them to tear up the flesh. They were also efficient at using their legs to hold the body in place while they tore off chunks of flesh.  They are probably not high on any one's list of favorite birds, but they do provide a needed service.

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