The polar vortex that plummeted temperatures here in Florida encouraged Anne and I to stay indoors. Humans adapt to the cold by seeking shelter, heating our homes and if we go outdoors, dressing in layers to retain heat. Wildlife have also adapted to winter’s challenges. Birds migrate to warm climates, mammals put on layers of fat and grow denser pelts, and reptiles and amphibians hibernate. How do turkey vultures survive the icy grip of a winter’s night?
Turkey vultures lower their body temperature at night to conserve energy and fluff out their feathers to retain body heat. Once the sun begins to rise, vultures need to warm to be able to fly. Sitting in the sun and opening their wings to the rising sun helps in heating. Their black feathers absorb all wavelengths of light that converts the light to heat. Before long, the vultures venture out, ride air currents in search of carrion.
We saw vultures doing just this near the Crystal River. The birds sat on trees devoid of leaves; many of the vultures outstretched their wings. Each one hung their wings perpendicular to the sun to maximize the capture the sun’s warming rays. It was a cold morning; Anne and I retreated to the warmth of our car.