Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
I spent a while trying to figure out what topic I should cover in this blog, because we don’t actually have turkeys that live in the park. Then it hit me – we do have Turkey Vultures, and they are a bird we should all be thankful for!
Turkey vultures can often be seen soaring high in the sky over the park. They are big birds with broad, dark wings that have white along the trailing edge, which they often hold in “V” shape as they fly. They get their names from their red, wrinkly, bald heads, which are said to resemble those of turkeys.
Here in the park, we are very thankful for Turkey Vultures because of all the hard work they do to keep our neighborhood clean. Vultures are carrion-eaters, which means they prefer to dine on dead animals. While they mainly eat mammal carcasses, they can also be found snacking on things like snakes, frogs, smaller birds, and even fish. Their bare heads keep them clean while they carefully remove pieces of meat from carcasses.
While their diet may seem gross to humans, it helps to keep our environment clean! Vultures have an amazing sense of smell. In fact, Turkey Vultures have the largest olfactory system of any bird! Their sense of smell is so good, they can find dead animals up to a mile away. This means that they are able to quickly locate dead animals and eat them before they can decompose and begin to impact the area around them.
Interestingly, Turkey Vultures don’t get sick from their diet of dead things! First, their stomachs are very acidic, which helps to kill off bacteria as they eat. In addition, their immune systems are so strong that viruses and bacteria are not able to establish infections. Some people are scared of vultures because they think they spread disease, but the opposite is actually true. Strong vulture populations help to limit the spread of diseases like anthrax and rabies, which can impact both other wildlife and humans.
So on Turkey Day this year, be sure to say thanks to the Turkey Vultures that help keep our environment clean and all of us healthy. And don’t forget to stop by and say hi when you are in the park walking off all of the extra helpings of stuffing and cranberry sauce!