One of the most amazing sights overhead on a hot summer day at the Wetlands Park is a soaring Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).
These masters of the sky ride thermals and updrafts of air from low altitudes to high, spiraling upward until they are almost lost to view. While soaring, they hold their wings in a V-shape, rocking from side to side and rarely needing to flap. The turned-up feathers at their wing tips (and their naked red faces) make them easy to identify in flight.
Turkey vultures spend most of every day in flight, scanning the ground below for the carrion or “the flesh of dead critters” they feed on. They use their keen eyesight to spot a dead animal from altitude. Unlike most birds, they also find food by scent.
Their ability to smell carrion means that turkey vultures are often the first to find a fresh carcass, even when concealed by thick vegetation. Once carrion is found, the vultures stay onsite until their meal is consumed and the area is picked clean. This important role as scavengers gives them their genus name, Cathartes, or “purifier.”