Friday, November 21, 2014


Hello and welcome back!  Thank you for returning to explore yet another animal from the World Bird Sanctuary. 

What type of bird comes to mind when you see or hear the combined words: scavenger, disgusting, and bald head?  If you are thinking of a vulture or condor, then you’re right!  In this blog I'm going to share some fun and educational information about a special vulture at the World Bird Sanctuary.  You will discover his species’ natural history, personal history, and a few very interesting facts, too!

The bird’s name is Kinsey and he is a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).   He was named after John Kinsey, a beloved WBS volunteer who passed away suddenly in 2009. 

Kinsey (photo: Lisbeth Hodges) 
Kinsey is 5 years old this year and came to us--literally!  He was rescued on our exhibit line after having been observed for three days walking around and not flying.  An examination revealed that due to an old injury his right wing could not be fully extended.  As a result of this injury, he could no longer fly.

Now, onto the educational info!  Turkey vultures are only found in North and South America.  There are two groups of vultures--Old World and New World.  There are 15 Old World vultures and 7 New World vultures, with 22 in total.  Old World vultures are more closely related to diurnal (day active) birds of prey like eagles, hawks and falcons.  New World vultures are more closely related to storks and cranes.  The New World refers to the Americas.  The Old World refers to the rest of the continents.  Other New World vultures include Black, King, Lesser Yellow Headed, Greater Yellow Headed, Andean Condor and California Condor. 
Our resident Turkey Vultures are often visited by their wild cousins (photo: Gay Schroer)
Vultures scavenge for their food, which means that they survive off of eating carrion (dead animals).  Kinsey is given rat, rabbit, pigeons, venison, and fish.  His favorite seems to be pigeon.   If you come to WBS between 8-9am, (when our birds on the exhibit line are usually fed) then your chances of seeing neighboring wild vultures on the exhibit line will be very good!  They often gather there hoping to scavenge scraps from our birds’ meals.  Since most of our enclosures have tops, they are not successful—but, hey, a guy can hope, can’t he?

Kinsey, as well as many of our other birds, loves to sun himself.  This basically means that he opens up his wings and directs the back of his wings and body to the sun.    Below you can see Kinsey sunning in the morning light.

 Kinsey sunning himself (photo: Lisbeth Hodges)
Turkey Vulture chicks look exactly the same as Black Vulture chicks.  Surprisingly, they have white fluffy down feathers and a black face, with a difference in beak shape.  Adult Turkey Vultures are all dark brown except for their bright red face.  It takes around two years for them to mature into the red face, with juveniles having a darker head.  Turkey Vultures are not sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female look the same.  They also have the same wingspan as small Bald Eagles, which is approximately six feet (67-70 inches).  Their weight however is much lighter--only 4.4lbs (2000g), whereas Bald Eagles range from 6-16lbs. 
Mortimer, one of our other Turkey Vultures, still sporting his white down feathers and dark head (photo: Gay Schroer)
These vultures lay a clutch (group of eggs or chicks) of 1-3 creamy white eggs with colored spots ranging from purple to brown.  Their life span ranges from 20-25 years in the wild.  In captivity they can live from 40-50 years! 
A wild Turkey Vulture in flight (photo: Gay Schroer)
Turkey Vultures are the most common vulture in the United States and they are very easy to spot.  When they soar in the sky, their wings are in a slight dihedral (V-shape), and can soar for many hours without flapping their wings.

These beautiful and bald vultures have a great sense of smell.  They can smell dead animals over 2 miles away!  They have very large nostrils, or nares that are within the cere (skin between beak and forehead).  Below you can see a close up of his cere.

 Kinsey giving us a good look at his cere (photo: Lisbeth Hodges)
Kinsey is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.

Kinsey can be seen in the weathering area just behind the Environmental Education Center (visitor’s center) at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm. 

Kinsey is a very handsome bird who demonstrates the phrase “bald is beautiful.”  You should stop by and see him sometime.

Submitted by former World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist Lisbeth Hodges

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