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Turkey Vulture

I always have scads of images in reserve, most of which never appear here. This series of Turkey Vulture photos was among them. I liked the way the shots came out, and as this is one of my favorite birds, I could not go without sharing them. And what better day to do so than on Christmas, in spite of the possibility of perceived symbolism.

The images were made at the Wilds back in November. The vulture was quite cooperative, but I was using the car as a blind and shooting out the window. Had I been on foot, the vulture would not have let me get near this close. I like the "bokeh" effect of the shots. Bokeh is modified from the Japanese word boke, which basically means blur, and refers to the quality of an image's background.

In the case of these images, the pleasing (to me, at least) gray-green background is the aggregate of fields of browning fescue grasses, interspersed with occasional autumn-olive shrubs. The images were made with Canon's 500mm f/4 II, with 1.4 teleconverter, which makes for a focal length of 700mm. The depth of field with this setup is quite shallow, hence the pleasing bokeh.

A face only a mother vulture could love, but that ugly mug is efficient. Turkey Vultures are strict carrion eaters, and their fare is often rather messy. It is easier to keep a face of bare skin clean than would be the case of it were densely feathered.

Note the massive nostril. Vultures find their food by sense of smell, and they're quite accomplished in the olfactory department. Even malodorous carcasses that are hidden from view are unerringly keyed in on.

One could write a book about just this species of vulture, as they have so many interesting facets to their lives. For me, as a young lad, Turkey Vultures were an endless source of fascination. I would lie on my back under big blue skies and watch them trace lazy loops high in the ether. Their flight is effortless, often not involving as much as a flap of the wings for many minutes on end. I thought that, if one had the opportunity to be a bird, Cathartes aura might not be a bad choice. Yes, the menu might leave something to be desired, but that's just the egocentric take of Homo sapiens. To the vulture, a fermenting opossum is t-bone steak.

All or nearly all vultures in my central Ohio neck of the woods have fled south for the winter. But it won't be long and they'll be returning in force. The Turkey Vulture is an early harbinger-of-spring, riding back into town on the first mild winds of late February, their appearance a precursor of an ever-increasing cascade of vernal migrants.


Anonymous said…
I've always found vultures interesting. Usually I only see Turkey vultures where I am (Brookville,OH), but occasionally I see a Black vulture or two around.
Tom Arbour said…
Merry Christmas Jim- did you dive into the coffers and pull the trigger on a canon super-tele?
Jim McCormac said…
Yessir, I finally pulled the trigger. No regrets, it is a stupefyingly awesome lens and has opened up entire new horizons of photography.
Lisa Rainsong said…
Thanks for posting these gorgeous photos! In my opinion, Turkey Vultures are beautiful, magnificent birds.
Cameron Svoboda said…
I like the Turkey Vulture's scientific name. Cathartes aura can be taken to mean either "golden purifier" or "purifying breeze."
Anonymous said…
These are wonderful birds. I enjoy watching them soar.

I participate in a raptor nest survey for the Cleveland Metroparks. I have always dreamed of finding one of these birds' nests. I have tried to read up on where they do it. I think it can be in trees, on cliffs, in dead trees or next to logs. And, I read that they are very secretive...which I already knew. There are a lot of these vultures around NE Ohio. So, they must be nesting successfully somewhere. They just don't want to share it. (That's fine with me.)

Ken Andrews
Maple Heights, Ohio

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