By Patrick Troyer

Education specialist

Paulding SWCD

For this week’s article, we feature a species that many are likely familiar with that often circles the sky as it gets ready to eat a dead animal.

It is likely a species that is not a favorite of some, but this species has many characteristics that truly make them unique. This week we feature the turkey vulture, which is an animal that is common in the skies of Ohio throughout the summer months.

Where does this animal live? What are its behaviors? Read along as we learn about the turkey vulture.

The turkey vulture is best identified by the red head of the adult and the black head of the juvenile. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), at first, most are likely to think that this species has a bald head but, they have multiple small feathers on their head that allows them to remain clean as they are eating their carrion, or dead animals.

A group of turkey vultures can easily be spotted soaring through the sky with their wings spread apart in a V- shape.

Caitlin Ambrose of Lake Metroparks writes that the turkey vultures will make the migration to southern Ohio, possibly further south for the winter, and returning around early March.

A strong sense of smell is something that is not lacking with the turkey vulture. According to Ambrose, the turkey vulture can smell carrion up to a mile away and thanks to this trait, they assist with clearing roadways of carrion. ODNR notes that this strong sense of smell is quite a rarity with those in the bird family.

Social skills are another feature of the turkey vulture as they are often seen in large groups called wakes. Ambrose writes that the male and female of this species stay together throughout the duration of their life to raise their young that are usually born with one to three young vultures with the average timeframe to raise their young around four months. An ideal habitat for the turkey vulture is various woodland areas or deciduous forests.

More than likely, you may be apt to call the turkey vulture a “buzzard”. According to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, “buzzard” is a term that early Europeans used to call hawks as they began settling North America.

The settlers saw these large birds flying through the sky thinking they were hawks and then called them “buzzards” which is a name that has stuck since that time.

Have you ever heard of Buzzard Day celebrated in Hinckley, Ohio?

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History writes that in the early 1800s during a hunt, large carcasses of unwanted game were left behind that attracted large amounts of turkey vultures to the area and that every spring hundred of turkey vultures make their way back to Hinckley to look for the great feast they took part in so many years ago.

What other fun facts are there on the turkey vulture? According to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, while they like to eat carrion, they will not feast on anything that has been dead for too long. They prefer carrion that has been dead for less than 24 hours. Primary among the diet of the turkey vulture is various mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

In the wild, the turkey vulture has an average life span of eight to 12 years while they can live between 25 to 30 years.

Have you seen a turkey vulture out and about? More than likely you have spotted one along the roadside with some carrion.

Now you know a few more facts about a unique Ohio animal soaring through the countryside. Stay tuned as we feature more animals and many other wonders about our great state.