I’ve been getting reports from people who see turkey vultures perched in trees or standing on telephone poles with their wings spread and wonder what’s going on.
They are sunning themselves to clean their wings.
Turkey vultures eat road kills and other dead animals. Their feet, beaks and feathers are often contaminated with bacteria from the often long-dead animals. Sunning themselves allows the sun’s ultraviolet rays to kill the bacteria.
That’s why they take sun baths. When the sun rises in the morning, the instant the sun’s rays shine on a vulture, its wings automatically spread wide.
When I worked as curator of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif., back in the 1970s, we had several non-releasable turkey vultures we kept on display and used for educational purposes.
In the morning when I turned on the lights in the museum, the vultures instantly spread their wings.
Pure reflex. /Gary