For the Birds: Wrapping up Vulture Week — the story behind the photos

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak Black and turkey vulture sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Black and turkey vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A black vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

I hope you enjoyed and made the most of Vulture Week.

What? You didn’t know last week was designated as a celebration of vultures? That’s understandable considering I totally made it up so I could post on my birding blog some vulture photos I had sitting around. Days, weeks and months are designated for all sorts of crazy things, so why can’t www.BirdsofNewEngland.com proclaim Vulture Week?

Well, it was last week anyway, so if anyone has a problem with it, it’s too late.

Vulture Week consisted of a series of photos with fun facts about the birds, which are

Photo by Chris Bosak A turkey vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A turkey vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

among the largest in New England. (The posts are still available on the site, of course.)

New England now boasts two species of vultures. The familiar turkey vulture — the one with the reddish/pink head — has been in our region all along. Now, the black vulture — with a blackish/gray head — is becoming more and more common in New England.

The northward range expansion started decades ago, but similar to the expansion of the red-bellied woodpecker and Carolina wren, black vultures are garnering more attention as they become increasingly common.

It is not uncommon for both species to be seen together, offering an easy side-by-side comparison. Aside from the color of their heads, there are other differences. The turkey vulture, for instance, is significantly larger. It is hard to judge its size when it is soaring, but when a close look is afforded, the difference is plain to see. Turkey vultures have a wing span of nearly 70 inches (about 6 feet) compared to the black vulture’s 60 inches (about 5 feet). The underside of the wings is another way to tell them apart. Black vultures have whitish wing tips while the white spreads significantly farther on the wings of turkey vultures.

Both birds have a keen sense of smell, but the turkey vulture has the stronger sniffer. That’s one of the reasons the birds are often found together, I’m sure.

Perhaps that’s how the large flock of vultures I photographed earlier in the fall found the prime spot at which I saw it. I can’t reveal exactly where I saw the vultures because I’m 99.9 percent sure I shouldn’t have pulled my car into that dirt lot. It is state-owned land (I’m not saying which state) and operated by the Department of Transportation. It is right off the highway and the rutted, rocky dirt driveway leading to a huge dirt pile is designed for dump trucks and large machinery, not passenger cars.

But, after seeing huge numbers of vultures on that dirt pile day after day, I couldn’t help myself anymore.

No one was behind me on the highway, so I made the turn into the area. There were dozens and dozens of vultures and I quickly realized why they liked that spot so much. It was the “dumping ground,” for lack of a better term, for the roadkill the DOT collected along the highways.

Several dead deer, many with magnificent racks, were spread around the base of the dirt pile. It’s an easy, endless source of food for the birds.

I kept my visit brief. I snapped a few photos, compared the black and turkey vultures, snapped a few more photos and got the heck out of there.

People get excited when they see vultures. Why wouldn’t they? They are huge and, despite their ominous appearance, can be quite endearing. They are less wary than other birds of prey (even though they scavenge instead of hunt) and smart, too.

Now try to tell me they don’t deserve their own week.

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Celebrating Vulture Week, part 5

Photo by Chris Bosak Black vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Black vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Here is the final photo in my celebration of Vulture Week, a week I totally made up because I had some vulture photos to share. This is a pair of black vultures, which are becoming more common in New England.

Final vulture fun fact: Vultures do not circle their prey, a misconception reinforced by so many Western movies. They do circle, but they do that whether there is prey below or not. If they find prey, they get to it quickly.

As a bonus, check out the Reader Submitted Photos page for a new photo of a soaring turkey vulture.

Celebrating Vulture Week, part IV

Photo by Chris Bosak  Vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Here’s a young turkey vulture with a wood chip in its mouth (for whatever reason) as a bunch of black vultures gather behind.

Fun vulture fact of the day: A “bunch” is not really what a group of vultures is called. Here are the real terms: “A group of vultures is called a kettle, committee or wake. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee refers to vultures resting on the ground or in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.”

Taken from Wikipedia, so it can’t be wrong. Right?

Celebrating vulture week, part III

Photo by Chris Bosak  Black and turkey vulture sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Black and turkey vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Here’s a look at both the black and turkey vultures together. In this shot anyway, the black vultures far outnumber the turkey vultures.

Vulture fact of the day: Turkey vultures have a much more keen sense of smell than black vultures. That’s probably why black vultures like to hang around with turkey vultures.

Celebrating vulture week, part II

Photo by Chris Bosak  A black vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Yesterday was the turkey vulture, today is the black vulture. From a distance they look pretty similar, but closer inspection reveals some differences — the most obvious being the color of the head. Black vultures are also a bit smaller.

Vulture fact of the day: Vultures have excellent sight and smell and can find a dead animal from as far as a mile away.

Kicking off Vulture Week

Photo by Chris Bosak  A turkey vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A turkey vulture sits on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

It’s Vulture Week — a totally made-up celebration concocted by http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com — so this week I’ll post photos of New England’s vultures and include some facts and/or stories about these birds.

There are two kinds of vultures in New England: turkey vulture and black vulture. Turkey vultures are one of New England’s largest birds with a wingspan of 67 inches (about 5 and a half feet). Black vultures, which are becoming more common in New England, are slightly smaller with a wing span of 60 inches. (Other wing spans: bald eagle, 80 inches; great blue heron, 72 inches; red-tailed hawk, 49 inches, American robin 17 inches; black-capped chickadee, 8 inches.)

More tomorrow …