The Turkey Vulture: Nature’s Forgotten Environmentalist
by Gail Schmidt Machado of Arroyo Grande, CA
I know you have seen the Turkey Vulture, A.K.A. BUZZARD, somewhere in your travels. You can’t mistake the large unsightly bald headed black bird. Perhaps at a “road kill” or surrounding a dead and decaying animal out in a field. This is their main diet.
“YUCK,” you say.
But, what if there weren’t any Turkey Vultures. Then the animal that met his unfortunate fate would lay and smell horrific and possibly spread existing diseases to other animals. I say, “Hooray for the Turkey Vulture!” His keen sense of sight and smell draws him directly to the dead animal. He and many of his friends feast on the decaying carcass until it is picked clean to the bone.
Turkey Vultures do not kill. They only eat what has been killed. Their beak is not shaped nor strong enough to actually kill an animal. Their claws are too weak to grasp and tear fresh flesh.
A glamorous bird? No. Their naked featherless heads are not “cute.” But this eliminates the amount of blood that would otherwise stick to their head if they had feathers. They are very clean birds. “No way,” you say.
It’s true. They spend hours preening over themselves. If there is a pond close by, they will bathe themselves and then fly to a roost and spread their wings out to dry.
I have seen thirty or more of these birds gracefully soaring over a dead cow. I always know that I should check it out. Sometimes, the dead cow will have a baby calf by its side. So… I look at the buzzard as a blessing in disguise. I can, at least, save the calf’s life by bringing him home.
Most people find these birds offensive. This is only because you see them eating disgusting food. But, think about it; our environment is so much better with the “clean-up crew” out there.
I love to watch turkey vultures soar in the sky. Next time you see them, stop and study them. You will be amazed how gentle and inquisitive they are. They watch people too, not to hurt you, but to maybe make a friend! I’ve known a couple of Turkey Vultures that waited for me to do chores in the morning at the hay barn. They knew I would be there every day on time. I named them Harry and Carrie. They would perch on the corral rail, across from the hay barn, watching me the whole time. When I was done with chores, they would fly away. I know they grew attached to me, as I grew attached to them!
When you’re thinking about garbage and the environment, don’t forget the Turkey Vultures. They are the forgotten, unappreciated environmentalists!