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Juvenile Turkey Vultures: so ugly, they're... ugly

An adult Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, in flight is a thing of great beauty. There are few finer feathered aeronauts. For hours on end, the vulture effortlessly surfs the thermals, tilting and rocking gently as it scans the ground from on high. Big and conspicuous, Turkey Vultures have caused many a person to pine for the powers of flight. How cool it would be to leap into the air and sail high in the clear blue ether, leaving behind  the petty problems of surface earth.

But Turkey Vultures have some strikes against them, at least for the human who is sizing up potential animals for future reincarnation purposes. Sure, vultures are cool and you'd have a whale of a time soaring around up there. The fun that could be had! Perhaps an aerial fecal bombardment of the Pope on one of his visits, or a direct poop strike on Mitt Romney as he stumps at some outdoors hotdog stand. A high speed powerdive strafing of Madonna singing at the Superbowl would have made for a barrel of laughs. Swooping down and knocking Ted Nugent's hat off his head during one of his hunting shows would add considerable amusement. And the list goes on...

But Turkey Vultures do have to come back to earth, and the reasons are often not pretty. You see, the issue of  diet might be a deal-breaker for those doing due diligence into possible reincarnation as a vulture. Have a look at their culinary tastes HERE, if you are so inclined.

Turkey Vultures begin life in rather gloomy haunts, far from the open blue skies that they'll later navigate. Old barn lofts, attics of abandoned houses, craggy rock crevices - all are typical vulture nest sites. Bob Lane located an active nest site in a Columbiana County, Ohio barn, and sent along some cool photos of the little vulturelets. He was kind enough to allow me to share them.

Photo: Bob Lane

A pair of five week old Turkey Vulture chicks gawk and flutter at the photographer. They truly have faces that only a mother could love. Were it not for their rather hideous wrinkled black visages, most people might find the chunky downy-white chicks rather cute. Don't get me wrong - I find them cute, and of course would never pass by an opportunity to check out some vulture chicks, as Bob did in order to make this photo. But Bob and I, we are not your average people when it comes to appreciating the finer offerings of nature.

A word too late to Bob - stay back, man!

Photo: Bob Lane

This is what happens when young vultures are intimidated by something that they perceive as a possible threat. The chick upchucks what has to rank in the Top 10 of the World's Most Nasty Glop. Their loving parents regurgitate masticated carrion for the little guys, and all is well as long as it stays down the hatch. Keep in mind, our recent days have been hot, hot, hot. Turkey Vultures scarf down dead animals that have been festering under the broiling sun. This diet of sun-baked opossum and other semi-liquefied meat has to be near tops among the worst food consumed by any animal. OK, let some of that rotten flesh marinate in the vulture's stomach for a bit, then pass it on to Junior, where the unspeakable glop can fester a bit more in the chick's innards.

Along comes Brave Photographer, to make some images of nest scenes that most of us will never see, and this is how he's treated. There is a pervasive old wive's tale that has Turkey Vultures "projectile vomiting" as a defense. To me, that term conjures images of the vulture (play this visual in slo-mo in your mind) doing this:

Bob Lane gingerly approaches the vulture chicks. One of them slowly turns to face him, and begins to gape its bill wide. With a mighty bobbing of its throat, as if its Adams Apple was in spasms, the vulture chick starts to erupt forth a spectacular flume of the foulest liquefied substance imaginable, a la Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Lane, a good 15 feet away, sees the nauseating glop arching his way, as if shot from a water hose. His eyes go wide as saucers, and he dives for the shelter of a hay bale. But Bob is not quick enough - a veritable Niagara Falls of putrid gloop plasters his face, and by rapid movements of its head, the baby vulture stripes our photographer from head to toe with a gallon of the hideous substance.

Myth dispelled - Bob's photo shows the range and extent of Turkey Vulture vomiting. Nonetheless, just upchucking some of that stuff out front probably serves to deter most would-be predators from venturing any closer. But had Bob somehow managed to get the glop on his clothes, he'd probably just have to incinerate them - vulture vomit does not wash out, so I hear.

Thanks again to Bob Lane for bring us actual footage of baby Turkey Vultures, and their puke. We need more guys like him taking these sorts of risks so the rest of us can be revolted in the safety of our own homes. And long live these baby vultures - Bob reports that this is the seventh consecutive year that vultures have nested in this barn.


Carolyn said…
Thank you for a great post! I laughed out loud!

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