This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the turkey vulture.
These large birds are commonly seen in the sky soaring or riding the thermals. While in the sky, they can be identified by their flattened v-shape, a dark brown body with a band of silvery flight feathers and by the feathers at the tips of the wings spread out like fingers. When not in the air, one or more can often be seen perched in a tree with spread wings drying in the sun. This is when the reddish-orange, featherless head is most visible, as it is pulled partly into the neck when in the air.
Turkey vultures are masters of soaring due to their large wings (5 1/2 to 6 feet across) and poor musculature in the wings, making them relatively light for their size. This comes at a cost, as they are weak flyers. You rarely see them flapping their wings.
Turkey vultures feed almost entirely on carrion, which is located by smell (an ability unusual in birds) and by sight. Their featherless heads are easier to clean after being stuck into messy animal carcasses. Without these birds and other scavengers, we would have a lot of dead animals lying around.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org or www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.