Outdoors journal: Migrating turkey vultures

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT
  • Updated: October 13, 2011 - 11:57 PM
It's migrating time for American wigeons, northern pintails, American crows, turkey vultures and many other bird species. Daily counts of more than 700 turkey vultures can be expected over Hawk Ridge in Duluth, and we continue to see them soaring over the Minnesota Valley at Le Sueur and St. Peter.

In summer, turkey vultures are residents and nesters in the forested part of Minnesota's northeastern region and along the St. Croix and lower Mississippi and adjacent river valleys. Their range is from southern Canada, all across the 48 states to South America. In the Bahamas I heard the residents call them "crows," and in Ohio and other areas they are sometimes called "buzzards."

Turkey vultures weigh 4 to 5 pounds, have red skin on their heads and dark body feathers resembling those of a turkey. The 6-foot wingspan is held in a shallow V when soaring. There is a two-toned look to the underwings, black wing linings against gray flight feathers. This apt soarer travels wide circles, tilting from side to side, and sustains itself with only occasional slow flaps of its wings. What they are doing is patrolling the area for food.

Turkey vultures seldom kill their own prey. They are on the lookout for road-killed rabbits, raccoons, skunks, dead fish on river banks or any other carrion such as dead livestock. An old carcass can be a messy meal, but the vulture's unfeathered head is beautifully suited to making the most of such a diet, which is how "nature's cleaner upper" keeps alive.

JIM GILBERT

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