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Bird of the Week: Turkey Vulture

With a 5-and-a-half-foot wingspan, it’s easy to mistake a turkey vulture for other, more regal raptors. While you may be disappointed when your eagle turns out to be a vulture, make no mistake that this balding buzzard is still a spectacular species. The best clues to knowing the bird you’re watching is a turkey vulture are the wobbly circles they fly in, the white undersides of their wings, and finger-like feathers at their wingtips. If you look close enough, you may even notice the distinctive “V” they hold their wings in and their bright red bald heads. Lacking feathers on their heads helps turkey vultures stay clean after their favorite meal—carrion. The other way they stay clean is by defecating on their own feet, it works kind of like built in hand sanitizer. As gross as this sounds though, turkey vultures help to keep the world clean for everyone else, as they play a crucial role in removing pathogens that would otherwise infect other animals. So, the next time you see a vulture flying high in the sky, instead of “Ew!”, I hope you can say “Thank you!”

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