A descriptive article about the less than charming, but very interesting Turkey Vulture.
Turkey Vultures have a very specialized job in the world and to perform it properly they have some very specialized tools and talents. Their job? Waste management. As carrion eaters they have developed some specialized (and, some might say, disgusting) characteristics, both physical and behavioral. Their bald heads, for example, enable them to stick their heads inside a carcass a little ways further than, say, a raven, another carrion eater. A vulture with feathers on his face and neck would collect significant amounts of food morsels and bacteria between his feathers while poking around inside a carcass. With no way to remove the bacteria, such a vulture would risk infection and disease. After a meal a vulture usually exposes his bald head to the sun and air so that whatever small amounts of noxious materials they do collect on their heads are baked off.
Secondly, their digestive juices are highly acidic. Since the meat digest by the juices sometimes would not pass government inspection, the acids and enzymes in their digestive tract do a fine job of killing off the bacteria, thus, bringing the food up to (or closer to) government standards.
Another function of the acidic juices is to keep away the Turkey Vulture’s few foolish predators. Hawks and other nest-raiding raptors might find the Turkey Vulture’s eggs or chicks a tempting treat. But the clever vulture, true to his reputation, has another disgusting trick up his sleeve. He befouls his own nest with vomit, a mixture of the acids and partially digested food. The odor secures the nest. The good part is that he does not, as some believe, projectile vomit at animals who threaten him; though he might shake his head as the vomit exits to make sure everything within a six foot radius is exposed to it.
The acids serve still one more cleansing duty. Walking around in older carrion can be a real health hazard if you do not wash up well afterwards with a good disinfectant. Old digestive acids are removed from the vulture’s body through his urine and feces. You have probably guessed it: to keep his featherless legs and feet pristine and free of bacteria, the vulture urinates or defecates on them.
Reading about all these endearing qualities of the Turkey Vulture may have you a little choked up right now, so I assure you that most of the really intriguing stuff is out of the way. It is uphill for here on.