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Matt Ragen

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Turkey Vulture Photos
(Cathartes Aura)

In 2001, we saw our first pair of turkey vultures up close and personal. These are not uncommon to the San Juan Islands but we had never really focused on these huge birds -- much less from just 30-40 feet away. This pair weren't too scared of people; I walked to within 15-20 feet before they both flew off down the hill about fifty feet away. Although the turkey vulture often inspires revulsion with its naked red head and its primary diet of carrion, it can be a graceful flier. It flies and catches drafts with its wings held in a 'V' pattern compared to eagles that fly with their wings straight out. The naked, featherless head is particularly useful when the eagle is dining on its primary diet of dead or rotting animals as there are no feathers to get sticky with blood.

Album - Turkey Vultures

Airing It Out

Vulture with Ruffled Feathers

Vultures Together

Vulture, Up Close

Vulture at Takeoff
Click on the picture or the caption to see a larger version of the picture.

The turkey vulture gets its name from the resemblance of its bald, red head to that of the turkey. Seen at close distance, the red head is one of the bird's most distinguishing characteristics. But since the turkey vulture is most often seen in flight, it is more easily identified by its long wingspan (up to six feet) and its two-tone wing color (black in front with trailing grayish-black).

Although often clumsy at takeoff, the turkey vulture is magnificent when soaring. It rides heat thermals and updrafts, soaring in circular patterns with wings outstretched in a shallow V-shape. It soars for hours as it scans open fields, meadows, and roadsides for food. Turkey vultures are migratory and are seen in the Pacific Northwest only during the warm months of spring and summer.

Vultures are scavengers that feed on dead animals, but contrary to myth, they prefer fresh food. To detect carrion, the turkey vulture relies on excellent long-range vision and one of the most acute senses of smell of any bird. The turkey vulture's ability to consume and digest pathogen-contaminated flesh without suffering harm makes it a valuable asset to humans, livestock, and other wildlife as a disease-control agent.

Here are some links to posters and books on vultures. I have only heard of one book focused on vultures that is currently in print although I suppose that many birding books include a few references to these intriguing birds. These are some of the books that are currently available from



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