12:01 a.m. - 2005-08-11
Hello! I'm writing this entry quickly as my roommate DEMANDED I do so. So even though I've worked almost 13 hours today, I will present to you: The Turkey Vulture!
The more I research this bird, the more I realize it belongs in my Bad-Ass Animal category. And also the Animal Grossology exhibit featured here in town!
Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are named after our favorite Thanksgiving mascot because both birds have bare heads. There are two groups of vultures; New World, with seven species, and Old World, with fifteen species. The definition of these two groups was recently changed due to DNA research. Old World (sub-family Aegypiinae) vultures will hunt prey, whereas New World (sub-family Ciconiiformes) vultures have weaker beaks and talons, and chiefly feed on carrion. It turns out New World vultures share an ancestor with storks and ibises, which explains the weaker parts.
Turkey vultures are about 25 to 30 inches long, weigh six lbs, and have a wingspan of six feet! Their heads are red and bare, with black bodies, except for the underside of their wings, which are silver. These big wings are dihedral, which means they stay in a V shape while flying. And vultures are some of the best fliers around: They can soar for hours without flapping a wing! The birds only fly once the sun has risen, when they can rely on rising thermals. Vultures can dive up to 60 mph!
A group of vultures is called a venue! And circling vultures are described as a kettle!
In the Cherokee language vultures are known as "Suli", while in Spanish they're called "Buitre de la cara roja." These birds are located all over North America, Central and South America, but only winter in the Southern US and southward.
The first superpower of the turkey vulture is the fact it is one of the few North American birds possessing a sense of smell! The other superpowers fall into the "Ew, Gross!" category.
First, when a vulture is threatened, IT VOMITS ON ITS ATTACKER. This serves three purposes. First, the enemy is shocked by the sudden appearance of a rotten meat chunk, and the corresponding smell. Secondly the attacker might be interested in eating the chunk. Thirdly, if something is threatening the vulture, puking up this undigested morsel will take a little weight off, to allow for a quick getaway!
Vultures also PISS DOWN THEIR LEGS ON PURPOSE. Again, this grossness is practical! Not only does the urine serve to cool down the bird (who doesn't sweat) but it also kills any bacteria that might be clinging to the vulture's legs from its last meal.
In addition, vulture poo is actually a sanitizer, because it contains so much uric acid.
Now, the bald head of the turkey vulture allows for less filth accumulation while eating carrion. But the gross part is after dining, the vultures make sure to sun themselves. This allows any food particles sticking onto their head and neck fuzz to dry and fall off!
A picture from www.whc.net:
While turkey vultures are very successful in America, their California cousins, the California condor, aren't faring as well; only 40 to 60 condors exist in the wild. Save the Calfornia condor!
I saw a turkey vulture this June in my hometown, which prompted its inclusion in the Critter Corner. I don't see many of these guys, but I know I will think differently of these Bad-Asses, and I hope you do as well!
Eat meat, puke and piss,