Despite their “refined” eating habits, vultures have traits that endear us.

October 11, 2010 | | Blogs | Environment | Notes from the Wild

Turkey vultures are a study in evolutionary adaptation but with bald, wrinkled, red pates they have clearly not evolved to please the human aesthetic sense. Like wearing sensible shoes, the nakedness of a vulture’s head is all about maintaining good health.

The vultures’ diet tells you why. Vultures like to dine, ah-hem, on well aged meat – not week old hamburger forgotten in the fridge, but really, really well aged meat, preferably tenderized by heat and sun.

Consider such a diet. Feathered heads would be a definite liability. Bodily juices and moldering bits of flesh would cling. So… to heck with appearances – lose the feathers!

View Don’s photo slideshow below.

Naked heads aside, vultures are gifted with other adaptations that assist their scavenging lifestyle. They shrug off botulism that would kill a human several times over. And vultures – unlike most of their avian kin – can smell well. Soaring high overhead they can sniff a tasty road killed raccoon far below.

Along with their refined eating habits, vultures have other traits that endear them to us. The young will regurgitate their food if you approach them too closely – week old rabbit sautéed in a vulture’s crop perhaps. They also beat the heat by peeing on their legs.

Distasteful? Well, how about seeing these birds in a different light – the light of a rising sun, silhouetting them against an azure sky. Vultures are air masters. They arc and wheel with the grace of prima ballerinas. Wing flapping is considered gauche – they choose instead to manage their flight with a deft wing tip here or a subtle body tilt there.

Vultures will be leaving us soon. They will ride the air currents to Texas and other points south. In March rumours of spring will spur their return to our hills.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to