A New Respect for Vultures

Out of all the birds that reside here in Florida, I am sure you are wondering why on earth I would be highlighting the vulture. A bird that eats roadkill isn’t exactly as beautiful and elegant like other falcons and raptors such as the beautiful crested caracara or the swallow-tailed kite that you only have the pleasure of seeing when Spring rolls in. Besides the lack of outside beauty, the vulture does a great job at roadside clean up so we don’t have to. A vultures’ favorite meal is carry-on and also eating dead cows in pastures. While vultures are mainly known to only eat roadkill, it may surprise you to know that black vultures are in fact quite aggressive and will kill or injure lambs, calves, cows giving birth, or other incapacitated livestock.

“The Turkey vulture is sometimes accused of carrying anthrax or hog cholera, both livestock diseases, on its feet or bill by cattle ranchers and is therefore occasionally perceived as a threat. However, the virus that causes hog cholera is destroyed when it passes through the Turkey Vulture’s digestive tract”-Prince William Conservation Alliance

There are two different types of vultures in Florida; the black vulture and the turkey vulture. The black vulture is more social of the two and flies in large flocks. These vultures are found in lowland areas along rivers or in open habitats in the southern United States and throughout Central and South America, but its range is expanding northward in response to global climate changes. Vultures today do not build nests and will lay its eggs between large rocks, at the base of a tree, or in a hollow stump. The female lays 2 eggs that are incubated by both parents for 38 – 45 days. The young vultures fledge at about 3 months old, but stay with the parents in a social group for many years.

The turkey vulture uses its sense of smell to locate carrion. The part of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large, compared to other birds. Its heightened ability to detect odors allows it to find dead animals.  Turkey vultures have dark brown to black plumage; a featherless, purplish-red head and neck; and a short, hooked, ivory-colored beak where as the black vulture’s head and neck are featherless, and the skin is dark gray and wrinkled.

The breeding season of the turkey vulture commences in March, peaks in April to May, and continues into June. Courtship rituals of the turkey vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In the air, one bird closely follows another while flapping and diving. Black vulture courtship rituals take place on the ground by several males circling a female with their wings partially open as they strut and bob their heads. They sometimes perform courtship flights, diving or chasing each other over their chosen nest site.

“Vultures are state and federally protected as a migratory bird, therefore it is unlawful to harm or kill them without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service”- US Fish and Wildlife Service

Even though vultures are not the prettiest birds in the sky, they do serve a great purpose, and with that comes respect for them which involves protection and conservation. You can help by removing dead animal carcass from the road when possible to reduce the risk of vultures getting hit by a car. Vultures receive unjustified criticism, but I think they should be one of our most protected birds.

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