The peak of turkey vulture migration was mid-September but migrants can be seen in northern and southern Minnesota through November and even into December.
In summer they 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 and all across the lower 48 of the United 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 that resemble wild turkeys'. Their 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 and 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 the vulture — sometimes called "nature's cleaner-upper" — keeps alive.
Here are some other observations:
- Leopard frogs area headed for lakes and slow-moving streams where they will spend the winter buried in sand or other bottom material.
- Short-tailed weasels have begun turning from brown to white.
- Nearly all 13-lined ground squirrels (gophers) are now hibernating in underground burrows.
- Waterfowl-watchers, keep an eye out for redheads, canvasbacks and northern shovelers.
- Tamarack tree foliage is smoky-gold. Pin oaks and both red and white oaks display leaves in dark reds and rich browns. The crunching and aroma of fallen leaves make walking in the woods special at this time.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and leaf lettuce are doing well in some gardens. Container trees and shrubs still can be planted in yards.
Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.