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This Week’s Creature Feature: Graceful Fliers and Good for the Environment

But vultures do have some disgusting habits

      Both black and turkey vultures, also known as buzzards, are common throughout North America, especially around the Chesapeake Bay. Even more are present during the fall migration, when they fly around the updrafts of the mountains and along the coastal shores.

         You see them circling in large groups called kettles. Many spend the winter here, so you also see them on roofs and trees trying to warm up in the sun.

         The black vulture has an excellent sense of smell. By circling drafts of scents, they can find carrion deep within a woods. Turkey vultures are bigger and a little less common. They do not have as good a sense of smell as the black vulture. They frequently follow black vultures to feed on the carrion first. The black vulture has some difficulty getting into a large animal, so it will rely on the turkey vulture for the heavy work and then overcome the larger bird with sheer numbers. This is a form of symbiosis, a relationship that benefits both animals.

         The black vulture has a black head and neck and gray legs. These big birds like to raise their young in enclosed areas like abandoned sheds, playhouses, barns, caves, etc. It also has the unpleasant habit of roosting in large groups. Their excrement is very concentrated, can kill plants underneath, and it smells horribly bad. The birds also use the smelly stuff to cover their legs and feet to keep away biting insects.

         Both birds have no feathers on their necks, and that helps them stay cleaner.

         The turkey vulture has a red head and neck. They lay their eggs on ledges, hollow logs or on the ground. They do not make nests. They also have unpleasant behaviors. When bothered or attacked, they forcefully projectile vomit chasing away almost any foe. It certainly would chase me away.

         The presence of vultures and condors helps reduce the spread of disease. They clean up the environment of potentially contagious materials. Despite their bad reputation and some unpleasant habits, they are graceful in their soaring flights.

         To tell the difference between soaring vultures and bald eagles, look at the position and color of their wings. The vultures fly with their wings in a V, while eagles’ wings are mostly out flat. Vultures have pale gray — almost white — on the trailing edges of their wings. Eagle wings are all black, with juveniles having large white speckles.

         To get up close to some of the birds, you can visit the Fisherman’s Park at Conowingo Dam. Hundreds of vultures flock there and get so close they will pull the rubber gaskets off your car.