One of our most popular pre-school field trip programs is Vulture View, where children can view the world like a vulture through yoga, read a story, construct a flying vulture craft, and try to grasp bird food with various bird ‘beaks’ during our bird beak buffet activity. Ordinarily, when we have a Vulture View program scheduled, we actually end up not seeing any real vultures outside.
Today, the vultures made up for their absences! As students from Laurel Valley Elementary School disembarked their school bus, a turkey vulture that was perched on the Environmental Learning Barn roof soared down and made a close fly by before joining its friends who were sunning themselves on the fence.
Turkey vultures are the only types of vultures that we have in this part of Pennsylvania (black vultures can also be found as you make your way further towards the central and eastern parts of the state) and they tend to get a bad wrap because of their food of choice. But vultures are fascinating animals and really great to have around! Imagine how many dead carcasses would be left lying around if it weren’t for vultures and other detritivores.
A group of 3 or more vultures is called a kettle and we certainly had a kettle today! Three vultures were seen sunning themselves on the fence and 5 were seen soaring in the sky. Vultures will often soar in the sky using thermal air currents. This allows them to fly long distances while utilizing very little of their own energy. They have an excellent sense of smell so when they smell some tasty dead thing, they just follow those thermal air currents to the source, land, and dig in!
Vulture food is pretty disgusting. The stinkier and more rotted the better in a vulture’s opinion! But with that rot comes a lot of disease. Bacteria and other microorganisms have already started doing their own thing and when vultures come in to feed themselves, they often get covered in the muck of the dead animal as well as the bacteria. Since they can get pretty messy, vultures have a lot of unique methods of cleaning themselves and staying healthy. One of those methods is to spread their wings and sun themselves. This serves multiple functions. It dries up the yucky guts that can sometimes get stuck on their feathers, making it easier to pick off during preening. It also attracts parasites that are present on the vulture to converge into one spot, that being the spot being warmed by the sun, making it easier to pull them off, also during preening. They may seem gross, but vultures actually go to great lengths to keep themselves clean!
Have you seen any vulture activity this season? Do you have questions about vultures? Do you want to know the other ways that they keep themselves cool? You are welcome to stop by the Environmental Learning Barn or contact the staff here for these and any other nature related questions. We love to talk all things vultures and other nature facts!