My typical route to work takes me by a large weathered barn, relatively close to the road. Early this week, as I approached the barn in my car, I noticed a large group of Turkey Vultures on top of the barn. I pulled off, turned around and came back to hopefully get some shots without scaring them off. I moved slowly, while keeping an eye out for traffic on the busy road.
During my processing workflow, I noticed some birds had red heads and others were black. At first I thought this was a gender distinction; while researching the Turkey Vulture, I learned the black head vultures are actually the Black Vulture. The Turkey Vulture has a strong sense of smell, which helps them locate decaying animal flesh – carrion. The Black Vulture has no sense of smell and therefore usually hangs close to the Turkey Vulture.
In these photos you can see several birds with spread-wing postures. This serves to dry wings and for thermoregulation. At night these birds maintain a lower body temperature – morning wing spreading helps raise their body temperature by absorbing solar energy. As in this case, they typically face the back of their wings to the rising sun.
With a maximum wingspan of up to 6 ft (183 cm), vultures are quite beautiful in flight. But, not so much up-close, on the ground. The vulture serves a vital environmental role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. They not only eat and clear decaying animal matter, but they’re digestive systems also kill harmful bacteria associated with carrion.
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