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Turkey vulture: Up close and personal!

By Gary Bogue
Friday, September 2nd, 2011 at 5:49 am in Turkey vultures.

Turkey vulture in flight. Photo by Tom Nichols, Fairfield, CA
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My house backs up to a hill and open space.  I have seen red-tailed hawks hunting and the vultures flying around.  They are so beautiful in flight and where I live it is very windy so they can soar, especially the turkey vultures.

I decided to go up the hill and put a few small pieces of meat on a post and see who responds to it.  It turned out the turkey vulture did and ate the meat.  This was from quite a distance and I wanted to get closer and photograph the bird.  The post was two-thirds the way up the hill.  I took meat and went on top of the hill, out of sight of houses and people using the jogging path behind my house.  I put several pieces of meat on the ground and backed off, standing 20 feet away.  This one turkey vulture was very cautious and circled, landed by the meat and ate it while I snapped photos.

Turkey vulture feeding. The bird’s bare head and bare legs helps it keep from getting feathers fouled when eating carrion. Photo by Tom Nichols, Fairfield, CA
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I would go up the hill and feed it, not very much, perhaps six small pieces of meat.  I did this on a regular basis and each time would make a noise so it could associate me with being the one feeding it.  My goal was for it to recognize the noise and associate it with food.  Eventually I wanted to feed it on my back fence and show this to my grandchildren.

It worked.  With only this one vulture though.  He will hear the noise I make and circle.  I built a small platform of plywood on the fence so he has an easy landing spot.  It is so windy here, I nailed some bark on top for him to hold on with.

Today my granddaughter was here and has seen him feed in the past.  She said grandpa, your bird is here and she pointed excitedly in the sky.  Sure enough the vulture was circling.  I told her to get a packet of meat from the refrigerator.  It is a Ziplock bag with six small pieces of meat.  I let her put it on the platform and we backed off 15 or so feet.  The vulture landed and we watched it eat.  She was thrilled to have fed the vulture.
Tom Nichols, Fairfield, California

It’s pretty amazing that you were able to do that! It really allowed you to get some incredible up close and personal photos of this shy bird.

Turkey vultures are just about as shy as they come. I’ve seen them sitting in a tree on the side of a road, staring down at the body of a dead squirrel on the pavement for a couple of hours, just to make sure it was dead before flying down to feed on it.

Not many granddaughters can say they’ve fed a vulture, grandpa! /Gary

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3 Responses to “Turkey vulture: Up close and personal!”

  1. Joanne Smith Says:

    Beautiful shots! I love turkey vultures.

  2. Christina Says:

    I want a turkey vulture, too!

  3. Dave Harper Says:

    Very well detailed picture. Love the Vultures…

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