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The Black (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey (Cathartes aura) Vultures: My Buddy, Nature's Vacuum Cleaner



By Lewis Smith









Regal and watchful
(Photograph © 2006, VisitWimberley.com)

Like the radio ad we’ve all heard (“...just imagine a world without trees”) try and imagine a Wimberley without Vultures.

For starters, it wouldn’t smell all that pleasant -- guaranteed. The abundance of wildlife we’re privileged to live among sadly produces an abundance of road kill, as well as death from a multitude of other causes.

Luckily, we’re also privileged to live in the heart of Vulture country. Both the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) call Wimberley home.

Scientists have yet to figure out how the Vulture is able to dodge disease and deadly bacteria that abound in their table scraps, but they do. And, in the process, they earn their keep by quickly reducing a foul carcass to a much less offensive scrap pile, converting it to fertilizer and spreading it about the countryside.




Photograph © 1999 Lewis Smith

Aside from that unique service to society, the Vulture, especially the Turkey, isn’t easily surpassed in soaring expertise. The closest might be the Eagle, which it resembles in flight. The Turkey Vulture is the champion -- stretching its six-foot wingspan to capture the slightest updraft and cruise our skies with ease. For the Black Vulture, soaring is a tougher job, resulting in more flapping.


Photograph © 2007 VisitWimberley.com


Up close, the Turkey Vulture has a bald red head and neck, while the Black resembles a young Turkey Vulture which also has a black featherless head and neck.    

Differences in wing coloring also help spot them at a distance. The Turkey Vulture has silver-gray coloration all along the bottom of its wings, while the Black has silver-gray only at its wing tips.

More differences...
Both have been known to take up with households -- especially if found as abandoned babies. The Turkey is more wary; the Black, willing to be petted like a pet parrot. The Turkey is also the first to find and begin dining on a “fresh” snack. Their keener senses, particularly smell, give them an advantage. They’re also darned smart. Try to fool them, and you’ll lose every time. They can sense, or see through any camouflage, blind, or decoy known to man (this man anyhow).

Although vultures prefer a communal roost in dead trees or webbing of steel towers (our most visible roost is six miles from the square on FM 3237), they nest on the ground under the cover of brush or in caves, nurturing two eggs.

If you're looking for a bird with personality, the vulture is loaded with it!


Buzz and Darryl, Young Black and Turkey Vultures
(Photograph © 1999, Mary Carol Buchholz)


“Buzz,"  found as a babe in the wild by Mary Carol Buchholz of Dripping Springs, is almost a member of the family -- getting along with pet deer and dogs. A Black Vulture, he resembles his young Turkey Vulture cousin “Daryl.” Daryl, raised from a chick by Mary Carol, has a sharper hooked beak and a more standoffish disposition. Now in the wild, he returns for an occasional treat.

A very generous bird. . .
the only thing they ask in return is to slow down when you come upon them working at a roadside.


Two Black Vultures (at left) joining several Turkey Vultures at supper time.
(Photograph © 1999, Lewis Smith)


 


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