Tom's Blog

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Turkey vultures at Pleasant Valley Conservancy

We've been visiting the Driftless area of western Dane county for many years but it has only been in the last dozen years that we have been seeing turkey vultures. Having lived in southern Indiana where vultures are very common, my first siting in Wisconsin was something of an event. Now I see them all the time, especially soaring over our steep south-facing slopes.

My experience is not unique. According to Mossman and Hartman, there has been a dramatic increase in vultures in Wisconsin since the 1970's, especially in the western part of the state. Mossman, M.J. and Hartman, L.M. 1992. Turkey vulture nest records from Wisconsin. The Passenger Pigeon, Volume 54: 31-42. 

Vultures are scavengers and cruise over an area looking for road-kill or other carrion. We often see four or more, flying low and nearby and gradually working their way up on the thermals until they are so high that you can hardly see them. Their eyesight is superb, so they can spot carrion from high in the air. Their sense of smell is also outstanding.

With their huge wings, they can fly in almost any wind. Yesterday's strong westerly was no problem and I saw them most of the day, often quite low. Late in the afternoon I saw four birds over the south slope. They gradually rose as they circled on the wind and once they were high each bird went its separate way.

According to Mossman and Hartman, turkey vultures nest throughout Wisconsin. Many of the nest sites are on the ground among rock outcrops. Although we have no confirmed nesting at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, we have plenty of rock outcrops that would be suitable.


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