Turkey Vulture 258/365
I have a difficult time telling apart turkey vultures from red tail hawks from a distance. This is a turkey vulture, as the Internet pointed out to me. Did you know there's an International Vulture awareness day? It's on the first Saturday in September every year. A group of vultures is called a “Venue”. Vultures circling on thermals of hot air are also referred to as a “Kettle”, because they resemble the rising bubbles in a boiling pot of water.
There are two groups of vultures: Old World and New World. Old World vultures rely exclusively on sight to find carcasses but New World vultures have a highly developed sense of smell to help them find carcasses. Vultures detect gasses associated with decay, such as mercaptan. In one famous story, workers on a natural gas pipeline were struggling to locate a leak in an extensive pipeline. They noticed vultures congregating in one area and that is where they found the leak. The vultures gathered above the leak because of the presence of mercaptan in natural gas.
Vultures are scavengers feeding on dead animals and generally do not kill their own prey. They assist in the decomposition of dead animals, cleansing the environment and reduce harmful disease. Some vultures are accused of carrying livestock diseases, such as anthrax or hog cholera, however it's been found these diseases are destroyed when passing through a vulture digestive tract. Studies have found that vulutures highly acidic digestive systems steralize contaminated meat.
The turkey vulture is thought to attack and kill newborn cattle, but that is not true. It simply mixes in with flocks of other birds of prey and scavenges what they leave behind. It is also interesting that they prefer the meat of herbivores and will avoid carnivores (dead bodies of dogs and cats) unless there is nothing else to eat.
Some people think vultures are ugly but they are an essential part of our ecosystem which makes them beautiful in my book. Since they feed on rotting carcasses they prevent disease from spreading. We should do everything to conserve these creatures. In the US, the turkey vulture is protected und ther Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal to take, kill or possess turkey vultures and violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and six months in prison.