Turkey Vultures – How the “Clean Up Crew” Contributes to Nature’s Balance

Turkey Vultures, or Turkey Buzzards, are called “scavengers”. Despite a generally negative attitude from humans, these birds provide numerous benefits for their ecosystems. Turkey vultures can be seen in places such as fields, suburban areas, roadsides, and even landfills and areas with food and carcasses. Unlike most other birds, these members of the “Clean Up Crew” feed on carrion, which helps rid the land of decaying animal carcasses, reducing the risk of harmful bacteria and diseases from spreading. Unlike more popular birds of prey such as eagles and hawks, vultures don’t have large and powerful talons to kill prey. Instead, their feet are smaller and help them with walking. They lack good eyesight, so they must use their exceptionally strong sense of smell to locate their food. Their hooked bills are designed for tearing off their food. Their distinctive red heads have no feathers, so as not to make them dirty while feeding. Turkey vultures will often stick their entire head inside the carcasses of which they are feeding on.

Despite their usefulness in their habitats, a negative stigma has caused the Turkey Vulture population to face numerous threats. Rehabilitation centers see many injured vultures, with injuries ranging from gunshots to lead poisoning and car run-ins. The Wildlife Center of Virginia often will admit as many as 2 dozen vultures a year.

Mattie Libre, a local wildlife rehabilitator, has been rehabbing vultures for over 30 years. She takes in at least 12 vultures a year. Unfortunately, most of these vultures end up being euthanized for broken wings. Most injuries sustained to turkey vultures in her care are indirectly inflicted by humans through things such as car crashes. On occasion she treats them for broken legs and if they heal, she releases them back to the wild. According to Mattie, the turkey vulture is essential for nature. Their great sense of smell allows them to find carrion, which contributes to eradicating diseases from the carcasses, and Mattie cannot stress their importance enough. Turkey vultures contribute enormously to their ecosystems and play a key part in helping to keep their environment healthy and running as it should. Rehabbers like Mattie are invaluable in the conservation of this vital species.

Written by Virginia Campbell. Virginia is a rising junior at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School in Alexandria. This is her second summer writing articles for the Nutley News. Virginia has always loved animals and writing so preparing articles for the Nutley News allows her to combine her passions. She hopes to become an animal-rights writer and a wildlife rehabilitator in the future.

Thanks to Kathleen Clements for capturing this awesome photo from her kitchen window.

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