View all of the titles in the
by Stan Tekiela
May 5, 2020
It seems that a lot of people are only interested in the glamorous or top-tier species of mammals and birds. For example, no one seems to be interested in mice, voles or shrews. You don’t see television documentary shows on these tiny critters. But it’s a different story when it comes to wolves, bears or moose. Everyone wants to see or photograph these large megafaunas.
The same can be said for birds. Everyone seems love hawks and eagles. These high-flying birds are on the top of many photographers and bird watchers list. And nothing stirs up the emotions like the owls. This group of birds seems to attract more attention than any other birds.
But I am often drawn to the lesser known, or less glamorous species. I was reminded of this while leading a bird photo tour to southern Florida this past week. While visiting a wetland that was developed for birding and bird photography, I saw a pair of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) that were hanging out near the road. Most photographers would just pass them by and not give them a second thought. But I don’t feel the same. Let’s take a closer look at this cool and not so popular bird.
The Black Vulture is a New World bird. This means it’s unique to the America’s and is not related to the vultures of the Old World of Europe, Asia and Africa. Black Vultures are in a group of their own and are the only vulture in its genus. In other words, they don’t have any close relatives.
You most likely are familiar with the much more common Turkey Vulture, which has a huge range, breeding as far north as central Canada and as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Turkey Vultures are larger and inhabits a wide variety of habitats from deserts to shrublands and forests. The Black Vulture has a much smaller range.
The Turkey Vulture hunts by eyesight and a strong sense of smell. It flies low enough to detect the gasses produced by the decaying process of animals. The Black Vulture is also a scavenger and finds its food by eyesight alone or by simply following Turkey Vultures. So, the big difference between these two New World Vultures is the ability to smell. The Turkey vulture detects the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produce by the decaying flesh and the Black Vulture doesn’t.
Black Vultures also lack a voice box, called a syrinx. This means the Black Vulture is usually silent and can make only grunts and hisses. They have a large wingspan of slightly over 5 feet. They use these large and broad wings to soar on thermals. They tend to have a series of quick flaps followed by gliding. Compared to the Turkey Vulture they flap more frequently during flight. Black Vultures weigh about 4.5 pounds, which is very similar to the Turkey Vulture.
The common name, vulture is derived from the Latin word “vulturus” which means “to tear” or “tearer” and refers to its habit of tearing open flesh. The Black Vulture is a basal or base of the vulture lineage. They have been around for about 12 million years making it one of the oldest species of bird on the planet.
Normally the Black Vulture feeds mainly on dead animals (carrion) but is well known for scavenging at garbage dumps or even taking eggs from other birds’ nests. Like other vultures, they play a very important role in the ecosystem by cleaning up dead and decaying carcasses which would otherwise be a place for deadly disease to thrive. Nature has a way of filling in all the nooks and corners of a complete ecosystem.
Like other scavenging birds, the Black Vulture has a natural resistance to pathogenic microorganisms. They have anti-microbial agents that are secreted by the bird’s liver and stomach. Combined they allow the bird to eat rotting flesh that will sicken or kill other animals or birds.
These are remarkable birds that really are the unsung heroes of the natural world and for that I find them fascinating. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed at www.facebook.com or twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel
The other day, I was out kicking around a natural area just enjoying nature with no particular agenda. I imagine a lot of my readers think that I am constantly on the hunt to capture the next wildlife image. While it’s true that I spend a lot of time “attempting” to capture...
Nature has so many different ways to accomplish just one task--reproduction. At this time of year, it seems that everywhere I look I see are baby birds. It’s a blizzard of baby birds being fed by their parents. From a small backyard pond to the large expansive lakes and wetlands to...
I often find the most interesting things in nature are the most mundane aspects of nature. For example, I am sure many of you are seeing turtles crossing roads or perhaps crawling across your yard. Why do these reptilian friends do this at this time of year and not at other times? Where are they...
In any profession there is often a lot of jargon and acronyms thrown around to express a point or to not use long cumbersome names. In the bird world, there are a ton of these, such as GHO standing for Great Horned Owl. In fact, there is an official abbreviation for all 10,000 plus species of...
Do you have any interesting wildlife in your backyard? Any nesting birds, deer, turkeys, reptiles, amphibians, or other unique wildlife? Or maybe a fox or coyote den?
If so, contact Stan at email@example.com with your backyard wildlife. If he can get a good photo of the subject, he will send you a print of the photo to hang on your wall.
When he's out in the field, Stan relies on his Vortex Razor binoculars and Vortex Razor spotting scope to help find the subjects for his award winning wildlife photography.
Now, contact Stan for your special code to get a 10% discount off, along with free shipping, when you purchase any of the Vortex line of binoculars or spotting scopes.
For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt's Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
From tripods to camera bodies and lenses, Hunt's has been Stan's place for everything that he needs. Personal service and prompt shipping means Stan can count on Hunt's to support his professional wildlife photography career.
Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.