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Bird of the Week: Turkey Vulture

The return of Turkey Vultures has always been one of the first signs of spring for those of us living in northern climates. Turkey Vultures are large dark birds with long, broad wings and red heads. Their wingtips have long “fingers” that are individual feathers that spread out in flight. When soaring, Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a ‘V’ when seen head-on. Often seen circling high up in the sky, these vultures ride on the rising warm air of thermals to conserve energy in flight. Some people dislike vultures due to their eating habits. Vultures are carrion connoisseurs, which means they are experts at locating dead animals to feast upon. Since vultures are one of the only birds with a sense of smell, researchers have wondered if these birds locate their food using their keen eyesight or by the smell of the dead animal. Experimenters noticed that the longer something has been dead in the wild, the less time it takes Turkey Vultures find it. The conclusion: they find their meal by the terrible odor it gives off. Turkey Vultures perform a valuable service for the ecosystem by their willingness to eat things that no other scavenger would touch and they get a five star meal out of it too!

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