November 4, 2009
Why Are They Here?
First off, I did not take these two photos. I had to borrow them from Google images. I was outside BBQ'ing and did not have the camera with me. I felt no need as the sun had almost set. The image above is what I saw late yesterday afternoon; it is a Turkey Vulture. I am not kidding when I say this bird was flying this low over the grounds.
I am used to seeing Turkey Vultures out in the country, soaring gracefully over forests and fields. I am not used to seeing them soaring over backyards in a city; especially one as big as Toronto. Sure I am not right downtown with the big skyscrapers but less than 20 minutes north/west and many high-rises and condos in the vicinity is still what I think not be country/rural enough for these guys.
Have I just not noticed them before? I don't think so. Two summers ago was my first sightings of them in the area. Three of them circling an area for about 4 days. I made jokes about them waiting for a stab victim to bleed out in the park near here. Deep down I had wondered if they were aware of maybe a dying deer in the woodlands along the Humber River? Last year I only recall one similar sighting. This year there have been more than a few. This latest one being the closest. About three weeks ago was the largest as I was in awe of watching countless numbers of them flying over head, moving in the same direction. I questioned them being Turkey Vultures. I had never seen so many. A visit to our local wild bird store showed reports from many others who had witnessed the same thing and counts were nearing 150 birds total.
I know very little about these birds but I plan to research them more over the winter. The only thing I do know is that they are scavengers, eating dead flesh, referred to as "carrion".
A quick visit to allaboutbirds.org tells me this that I'd like to share...
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 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.
Like its stork relatives, the Turkey Vulture often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces to cool itself down.
No nest structure. Puts eggs directly on ground in caves, crevices, mammal burrows, hollow logs, under fallen trees, or in abandoned buildings.
Prefers rangeland and areas of mixed farmland and forest.
Roosts in large trees or on large urban buildings.
Wide variety of carrion, from small mammals to dead cows. Also some insects, other invertebrates, and some fruit.
So, some interesting tid-bits for sure; but still no answers for me on why they are here now or am I mistaken and they have always been here?
Maps show we are in the northern most areas for them in spring/summer breeding. Another thing I just found out... they are migratory. I thought this might be the case with the sightings, that they are passing through, but I have seen them through the summer months.
I only hope my increased sightings of these birds is not because of suburban growth, tearing up more and more land for development and housing of humans.
Are they learning to adapt with the masses of people? If so, people need to be educated, as I am betting many will misunderstand the role a Turkey Vulture plays and fear such a large un-attractive bird would definitely feed on their pets and not a creature that plays an important role in cleaning up the forests and fields of deceased animals.