February 7, 2012

Signs of Spring – the Vulture?


The Turkey vulture soars on large, up turned wings, lolling over fields and highways. Turkey vultures, so named for their featherless headed resemblance to Wild turkeys and habit of sitting on the ground to eat, are migratory in nature but winter as far north as Connecticut. They appear in Massachusetts in late February and slowly make their way north for a summer spent wavering over farm fields and eating carrion.

Designed to eat carrion (dead things) vultures have an acute sense of smell and can reportedly smell day old meat from several miles away. The Turkey vulture’s return to New England is a sure sign that things will get warmer and watching the skies for these large birds is a better sign of spring than the iconic robin, a species found year round in much of the area.

Watch for vultures flying, often in small groups of 2 to 3, on black wings that appear silver or white towards the trailing edge. They fly with wings held in a “V” shape and with a wing span of 68” are closer in size to the Bald eagle’s 80” wingspan than the Red-tailed hawk’s 48”. While both Turkey vultures and Bald eagles have large, dark wings confusion can be avoided by the vultures signature “teeter-totter” flight style. Like a kite on a string being pulled by the wind, the vulture flip-flops through the air while the eagle flies on plank-straight wings without mind of the wind. Both large birds spare lie energy to flapping and soar on rising heat thermals.

Leonard Cohen recounts a father son journey to the woods in his song, Story of Issac.

Songs From a Room“So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
and his axe was made of gold.
Well, the trees they got much smaller,
the lake a lady's mirror,
we stopped to drink some wine.
Then he threw the bottle over.
Broke a minute later
and he put his hand on mine.
Thought I saw an eagle
but it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.”

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Startled to see 3 large soaring birds over our horse farm in Wilbraham. Turns out what we thought were eagles are indeed Turkey Vultures! Have great video of pruning and suning. Thanks for the information! Gary and Susan Lennox

Anonymous said...

Turkey vultures never seem to leave our area. Perhaps they like the perch given them by the "traprock" or "Pocumtuck" ridge that runs north-south, from Mt. Sugarloaf in Sunderland, MA, to the border of New Hampshire, in Northfield, MA. This is part of a greater ridge of sedimentary and basaltic rock known as the Metacomet Ridge.

On almost any clear day, Turkey vultures can be seen circling between the ridge and the flat fields to the west.

Anonymous said...

Turkey vultures never seem to leave our area. Perhaps they like the perch given them by the "traprock" or "Pocumtuck" ridge that runs north-south, from Mt. Sugarloaf in Sunderland, MA, to the border of New Hampshire, in Northfield, MA. This is part of a greater ridge of sedimentary and basaltic rock known as the Metacomet Ridge.

On almost any clear day, Turkey vultures can be seen circling between the ridge and the flat fields to the west.

Anonymous said...

Timely-A few hours before reading this today, saw three low flying vultures over our front yards.A little ominous feeling.

Regina said...

Leaving my downtown Attleboro home today, I saw a large, turkey like bird in my neighbor's yard. I stopped for a look, and was surprised it was actually a turkey vulture, having a merry time with a squirrel carcass. This was in downtown Attleboro, near the center of town. I watched it for a bit and took pictures, it wasn't the least bit concerned.

Fred M said...

I saw one today. While riding my bicycle I rode right past a huge bird that I initially thought was a turkey sitting on a guardrail. My first thought was "What the heck is a turkey doing perched on a guardrail?" I continued riding a few dozen feet then stopped and got my camera out to take photos. I was amazed, the bird was startled, and we both sat there watching each other.

By then I realized it wasn't a turkey, but I couldn't figure out what it actually was. It seemed to be some kind of hawk or eagle, but that reddish head didn't remind me of anything I'd ever seen. "Hawk with mange?" was my parting thought.

I'm glad I found this. Now I know that vultures don't just live in California deserts.

(Location of sighting was in Hingham Massachusetts, Rte 228 at Hingham Harbor)

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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