Lucy the Turkey Vulture
Lucy the Turkey Vulture is a female and our oldest resident, admitted on December 26th, 1989. She was hit by a car near the Ranger’s Baseball Stadium (now Tampa Ray’s) on SR 776 in Murdock. Her left wing had to be completely amputated. She is enjoying her retirement these days.
Cool Facts about Lucy the Turkey Vulture
The Turkey Vulture uses its sense of smell to locate carrion. The part of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large, compared to other birds. Its heightened ability to detect odors’ it can detect just a few parts per trillion; allows it to find dead animals below a forest canopy. The Turkey Vulture maintains stability and lift at low altitudes by holding its wings up in a slight dihedral (V-shape) and teetering from side to side while flying. It flies low to the ground to pick up the scent of dead animals.
- Habitat: Look for Turkey Vultures as they cruise open areas including mixed farmland, forest, and range land. They are particularly noticeable along roadsides and at landfills. At night, they roost in trees, on rocks, and other high secluded spots
- Food: Turkey Vultures eat carrion, which they find largely by their excellent sense of smell. Mostly they eat mammals but are not above snacking on reptiles, other birds, amphibians, fish, and even invertebrates. They prefer freshly dead animals, but often have to wait for their meal to soften in order to pierce the skin. They are deft foragers, targeting the softest bits first and are even known to leave aside the scent glands of dead skunks. Thankfully for them, vultures appear to have excellent immune systems, happily feasting on carcasses without contracting botulism, anthrax, cholera, or salmonella. Unlike their Black Vulture relatives, Turkey Vultures almost never attack living prey
- Nesting: Turkey Vultures don’t build full nests. They may scrape out a spot in the soil or leaf litter, pull aside obstacles, or arrange scraps of vegetation or rotting wood. Once found, many of these nest sites may be used repeatedly for a decade or more
- Nest Placement: Turkey Vultures nest in rock crevices, caves, ledges, thickets, mammal burrows and hollow logs, fallen trees, abandoned hawk or heron nests, and abandoned buildings. These nest sites are typically much cooler (by 13 degrees F or more) than surroundings, and isolated from human traffic or disturbance. While they often feed near humans, Turkey Vultures prefer to nest far away from civilization
- Behavior: The Turkey Vulture’s distinctive slow, teetering flight style probably helps the bird soar at low altitudes, where it is best able to use its nose to find carrion. At other times they may soar high on thermals and form mixed flocks or kettles. On the ground they move with ungainly hops and are less agile than Black Vultures. Often, especially in the morning, they can be seen standing erect, wings spread in the sun, presumably to warm up, cool off, or dry off. Outside of the breeding season, Turkey Vultures form roosts of dozens to a hundred individuals. When Turkey Vultures court, pairs perform a “follow flight” display where one bird leads the other through twisting, turning, and flapping flights for a minute or so, repeated over periods as long as 3 hours. Migrating flocks can number in the thousands. At carcasses, several Turkey Vultures may gather but typically only one feeds at a time, chasing the others off and making them wait their turn. Despite their size, Turkey Vultures are often driven off by smaller Black Vultures, Crested Caracaras, Zone-tailed Hawks, and other species
- Conservation: Turkey Vultures have been increasing in number across North America since the 1980s. Before that, they were threatened by side-effects of the pesticide DDT. Today they are among the most common large carnivorous birds in North America. However, because they live on rotting meat, like California Condors, they can fall victim to poisons or lead in dead animals. The main concern is lead shot that ends up in carcasses or gut piles left by hunters. The animals eat the shot and eventually suffer lead poisoning. Other threats include trapping and killing due to erroneous fears that they spread disease. Far from it, vultures actually reduce the spread of disease
Facts source: Cornell University – All About Birds