Here’s why you should look twice at every Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture at Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware, by Brian Kushner.
Turkey Vulture at Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware, by Brian Kushner.

For 13 years, a team of intrepid Canadian researchers led by ornithologist C. Stuart Houston has been applying wing-tags and the occasional satellite transmitter to Turkey Vultures in southern and south-central Saskatchewan.

The province’s vultures are of high interest to ornithologists for many reasons: The big birds are increasing in numbers throughout the province’s Aspen Parkland and Boreal Transition ecoregions. Unlike other Turkey Vultures in the continent, they also make long migrations. And since 1982, they’ve changed their behavior noticeably: Instead of laying their eggs in caves, their traditional nest sites, they’ve taken to nesting in deserted farm houses and other abandoned buildings.

Houston, a retired radiologist, historian, and recipient of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and Officer of the Order of Canada, describes his study and what he’s learned from it in a fascinating article in our October 2015 issue, available at Barnes & Noble and other newsstands September 1.

He also reminds us that every sighting of a tagged vulture is valuable, since it adds to our scientific knowledge. If you spot a Turkey Vulture wearing a wing-tag, please report it. Here’s how:

Write down the wing-tag number, go to reportband.gov, the website of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and follow the directions. Provide the exact location and date of your sighting as well as your name and contact information. You will receive a certificate of appreciation in return.

You can also send the date and exact location by e-mail to [email protected] or [email protected]. If you don’t have access to e-mail, and only if you have a tag number to report, call the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, collect: 1 (613) 990-1698.

If you live in Saskatchewan or visit it, please check every deserted farm building after July 1, when young have hatched and parents are unlikely to desert them. Look in the basement, attic, and clothes closets, smell for rotting food, and listen for a loud steam-engine hiss. Please report nesting vultures to Houston.

When to watch for migrating tee-vees

Not all of North America’s Turkey Vultures migrate. Birds that breed in the north and west are more migratory than eastern populations. Vultures in the Southwest, in Florida and other Gulf states, and along the southeastern Atlantic coast are generally resident.

The birds leave their northern breeding areas from late August to early November. Many western migrants pass through South Texas beginning in September and Panama, at the other end of Central America, from mid-October to early December.

Eastern migrants arrive in wintering areas in southern Florida from early October into November. Flocks are seen flying south from the Florida Keys from late November to mid-December, but their destination is uncertain. Populations in Cuba and Puerto Rico do not increase during winter.

Read Houston’s article about a leucistic Great Gray Owl discovered in Saskatchewan during the 2004-05 owl irruption.

Vultures find artificial thermals just right for soaring.

See photos of Turkey Vulture.

 

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