Turkey Vultures ( Cathartes aura ) are both creepy and cool birds. Being scavengers, they have featherless heads and a very strong sense of smell. Last year the Smithsonian published a story about a study that shows they may have the best sense of smell among birds. It’s not surprising given that a significant part of their head is nose.
Yesterday morning I looked out my window and there was one sitting on my deck railing just a few feet from my window! I often see them riding the thermals above me, and once in a while at the top of a sheared of pine, but never on my deck. Sooo I had to grab my camera and take a few photos. It’s easy to see how they are descended from dinosaurs – the feet and head especially. I looked for something dead below the deck but didn’t see anything, and I didn’t smell anything foul. Until this morning. NOW I smell whatever attracted the Vulture. I really wish it’d bring buddies and consume whatever it is – it reeks.
As fascinatingly creepy as the turkey vultures are, they do provide a valuable clean up service. I can’t imagine how bad the woods and other places would smell if there wasn’t such a diligent recycle crew. The Smithsonian article also illustrates what happens should the scavenger population be removed. It’s not pleasant.
They are fun to watch as they ride the warm currents blowing up the river canyon below me. They are experts at navigating them. It’s only when they come down to earth that they turn awkward and ungainly.