Monday, October 20, 2014

Vultures Rock

In my lifetime I have been fortunate enough to have presented bird shows in many parts of the country, and to a large variety of audiences.

Presenting a program at an elementary school (photo: Chad Tussing)

I’ve talked to children and adults, and everything in between.  As you might imagine, I have fielded a lot of questions on tons of different topics.  My favorite question that I have only been asked a handful of times is, “If you could be a bird, what kind of bird would you be?”  One of my favorite things about that question is that I get to reply, “a Turkey Vulture,” without pausing.
People are usually shocked when I tell them I would want to be this bird (photo: Melissa Moore)

The response that I receive is usually surprise at least, and sometimes shock:  “Why on earth would you WANT to be a Vulture?”  My reply: “Have you seen the way they fly?”

Have you seen the way they fly?  (photo: Gay Schroer)

Vultures are masters of the air. Turkey Vultures can soar for hours without ever having to flap their wings. They use their large wing area to catch the warm air rising from the ground, called thermals, and ride it in a circular pattern higher and higher. When they gain enough height, they can simply soar out of the thermal and glide along, gradually losing altitude until they find another thermal. In this manner Turkey Vultures can cover hundreds of miles using very little energy. They hold their wings in a “dihedral,” with wing tips being higher than the vulture’s back, so the wings form a V-shape, to take greatest advantage of the lift.

They hold their wings in a dihedral (v-shape) (photo: Gay Schroer)

The best places to find these warm uplifts of air known as thermals are over fields. As the sun heats the ground, the lowest air begins to heat up and then rises in columns. Humans in gliders can take advantage of these uplifts in the same way that Vultures do.

The primary feathers fan out, almost like fingers (photo: Gay Schroer)

When you watch Turkey Vultures in flight, you can see the rather precarious agreement they have with the laws of physics. Their bodies tip slightly from side to side as they adjust to moving air currents and soar, sometimes just above the speed of stalling. The primary feathers at the tips of a Turkey Vulture’s wings fan out almost like fingers, and, if you watch closely, you can see the tiny adjustments they make with these and their tail feathers as they fly.

Who wouldn’t want to fly like that?

As you walk our path you may see wild Turkey Vultures visiting their resident cousins (photo: Gay Schroer)

To get a really good look at these “Masters of the Sky” come out and visit the World Bird Sanctuary on any day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As you walk down the trail past the Wildlife Hospital you will see the exhibit that houses our resident Turkey Vultures.  They will sometimes keep pace with visitors, accompanying them along the fence line inside their enclosure as the visitors walk down the trail.  You may even be lucky enough to see the many wild Turkey Vultures that sometimes visit their resident cousins in hopes of getting a free meal.

Submitted by Melissa H. Moore, World Bird Sanctuary Special Event & Volunteer Coordinator

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