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Photo Story: The Other Turkey Bird

Bethel resident John Read shares what he learned after a unique experience with a different type of turkey.

The other day I went on my daily, but short pilgrimage to check our mailbox at the end of our driveway, when I became aware of the two crows that frequently stage atop the tall Spruce tree at our corner, were creating quite a racket. Their loud, indignant caws had gotten the best of my curiosity, so I began to search the viewable sky to see what the commotion was all about. I finally matched the sound and their visual aerobatic dance, as they closely circling around an old maple which stands in my neighbor’s front yard. 

At the heart of the crow’s attention was an ominously looking bird, a turkey vulture, which had invaded their territory and had apparently taken a respite from riding the thermal air currents. These thermals permit vultures and other large birds to cover great distances practically effortlessly, relying on their enormous wing span to glide up and down the Connecticut’s valley in the search for carrion.

In the meantime, I had quickly run back into the house and grabbed my camera which hangs ever-ready on the staircase newel post. My mind raced with the significance of this large and well...unflattering looking bird here in Bethel. Was it a messenger of ill-tidings, or just lost? 

Whatever the meaning of this visit, I hoped that it would be still there, by the time I got back outside. I have to admit my previous knowledge of vultures consisted primarily of what I saw on Saturday morning cartoons, viewed looming ever-present on some long-forgotten Cactus. I knew it was a vulture, but preposterously assumed, in cartoon-like fashion that there must be a dead body close at hand and that this demon of the air was now ready to pounce and feed.  

Luckily for me I was wrong, at least about the dead body and my new-found photogenic friend was not spooked away as I clumsily got my camera ready and in focus. I suppose I was just a minor curiosity, because the Vulture now faced a greater threat of additional crows that had come to find out what the ruckus was all about. While there were still crows circling the maple, the two original crows, had become even bolder by landing in nearby branches, and maintaining their incessant cries. Clearly a bird this size, which was, by my estimate several times larger than the crows, would not only be a territorial threat to the crows, but also a challenge to their food supply.  

In this light, the crow’s reaction was understandable. However the noisy racket continued for about twenty minutes, until this vulture, for whatever reason for its visit, had enough. Without warning, the vulture leapt off its branch, clearing the tree and, pumping its grand wings several times until this majestic bird was in an instant, gliding over my head and soon out of sight. 

As I slowly went back into the house, I realized that I had just had a unique experience, and I found that a curiosity about vultures had welled-up in me, so I decided to find out more. A quick search of the Internet proved how little I really knew about this bird whose territory covers for some, a migration from Canada to the Southern United States. Moreover, still other turkey vultures have adapted to isolated climates remaining year-round in the Southern sections of United States, and Cape Horn, Chile.

And despite my initial subjective fears about the Turkey Vulture’s appearance, its behavior is really gentle and non-aggressive. In the end, the Crows had won out in this territorial dispute, yet I was grateful that I had the lucky opportunity to take a couple of close-up photos, basically in my front yard.                                                                                                                                                  

Fascinating facts provided by The Turkey Vulture Society:

  • The turkey vulture, contrary to popular belief, does not feed strictly on carrion. This bird enjoys plant matter as well, including shoreline vegetation, pumpkin, and bits of other crops
  • The turkey vulture is one of the only birds in North America with a sense of smell. This vulture relies both on its keen eyesight and powerful nose to search out food
  • Contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a dead animal. Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for  long flights, searching for food or playing.
David November 23, 2011 at 03:01 PM
A very interesting story. Thank you I appreciate it.
MBP November 23, 2011 at 03:19 PM
When my children were little we'd sometimes run errands by dropping one parent off at the store and then circle the shopping center instead of unpacking infants for a five-minute errand. So one day we round the building only to discover some kind of turkey vulture convention! Around thirty vultures, sitting on the dumpsters, balanced on the roof and flying in small circles. Very eerie and interesting to see.
Renee Read Oconnor November 23, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Nice to know turkey vultures have good adjectives to describe them. Good read, especially at Thanksgiving!
Alessandra de la Vega November 27, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Interesting article. I've seen them before around my parents' condo in Brookfield, but didn't know much about them. Is there any actual relation to the turkey?
John Read November 28, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Thank you all for your comments! Hi Alessandra: The Turkey Society believes that all vultures are most closely related to storks and ibises, yet others scientist believe the birds belong with other raptors. It is a bit confusing still because little is know about the Turkey Vulture, but I hope this helps!

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