Bird of the Week – The Turkey Vulture

by Bob Walker

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are summertime visitors we regularly see soaring in the skies above Los Alamos County. These wide-ranging birds are year-round residents from South America through Central America and up to the Southeastern US. During the summer, they venture across the rest of the US and up to southern Canada. They characteristically soar with their wings held in a v-shaped pattern, wobbling as they soar, either looking for thermals or dropping to lower altitudes to search for carrion. They locate food by detecting and following the smell of the gas mercaptan, and are one of the few birds with a highly developed sense of smell.

Our first Turkey Vultures arrive in spring around the first of March, one of the first birds that signal the beginning of spring migration. They breed here in the summer, leaving in mid-October for the winter, heading toward Central America, perhaps as far south as Ecuador. While here for the summer, they roost in several well-known locations in the county. Three of these include a roost near the ice rink in Los Alamos Canyon, one or more in Bandelier National Monument, and sometimes in cottonwood trees along Grand Canyon Drive in White Rock.

Turkey Vultures roosting in a cottonwood tree in White Rock.

Find more detailed articles about Turkey Vultures on these web pages: identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org.   You can see beautiful photos of Turkey Vultures at the Alan Murphy web site. For more images, perform an image search on Google or Flickr, and you’ll find many excellent photographs.