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Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Posted on Oct 27, 2014

Here’s a Halloween-themed sight! Non-hawk watchers often ask me, “How do you know if a Turkey Vulture is migrating?” instead of it soaring around looking for a meal. Even this photo can help explain that to some degree. Most folks, even non-birders, can picture a Turkey Vulture in the sky with wings extended, held straight, in a dihedral – wings angled above horizontal. Sometimes this is dramatic and the bird looks like it is making a V. However, if this photo was a silhouette you may think Osprey before anything else. Turkey Vultures on the move at lofty heights, much higher than feeding levels, hold their wings locked in this flatter and bent position. They glide through the sky in a straight line at high speeds, saving energy while taking a direct course instead of circling. There are other factors that may go into play at a hawk watch, such as the direction a bird is going, but this streamlined positioning is typically a good indication of its intent. October through November is a great time to see Turkey Vultures on the move south from the Northeast.

Turkey Vulture in flight-0377

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator