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Nature’s Clean-up Crew

We would not be very happy if we lived with the stench of rotting carcasses of dead wildlife. Although many people find these birds repulsive, turkey vultures ensure that we live in a world devoid of nasty odors.  These vultures have a keen sense of smell and acute eyesight that enables these large birds to find dead animals – its primary food.

It is hard to be outdoors in Florida and not see turkey vultures soaring on thermals, they are nearly ubiquitous. These birds roost in large groups in the evening; they go their own way each morning to seek breakfast. Turkey vultures nest on the ground in the hollows of trees or in heavy thickets where they lay two eggs without any nesting materials. The chicks hatch 30 – 40 days later and can be on their own in about two months. Although healthy adults have no enemies, foxes and raccoons eat vulture eggs and the young birds are most vulnerable before they fledge. Eagles and large owls will prey on the youngsters.

Most abundant in southern U.S. and South America, Bird Life International estimated in 2012 that there are 4.5 million turkey vultures. Another vulture here in Florida is the black vulture. It is a slightly smaller bird with a black bald head (turkey vultures have red bald heads) and does not have as keen a sense of smell. Black vultures have a more diverse diet and will scavenge for food, even in garbage dumps. The next time you see a vulture take a deep breath in and be thankful these birds are nature’s clean-up crew.

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