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.
“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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org