Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turkey Vulture Musings

Some people enjoy watching the little Turkey vultures and others do not. The TVs behave quite differently from the eaglets: they spend hours a day beating each other up, don't play in a similar fashion, appear to frighten their parents (the hooligans!), and have a very unappealing diet.  They are fun to watch (if you don't mind intestinal tug-of-war) but there are not nearly as many 'awwwwwwhhh' moments. Both Bald eagles and Turkey vultures are raptors [note - I had a few of emails that pointed out this is debatable. Some experts argue that New World vultures should be placed into storks, others argue they should have their own order, Cathartiformes, and still others argue that they should be placed into raptors]. So why are their young so different? I think - and this is speculation - that the way the young birds play and interact with one another reflects their very different lifestyles as adults.

Since eagles eat live prey, they need to hunt. Since recently-killed prey has firm flesh still connected by tissue, muscle, and bone, they need to tear food. When Mom and Dad bring food in, the eaglets sometimes stalk it. Once the eaglets can stand and walk well, they also tear food with their feet, steal it from their parents and one another, and mantle to guard and protect it. Food play includes stalking, pouncing, and grabbing. A few examples:      
Turkey vultures, on the other hand, eat primarily dead food (they have been observed eating pumpkins), detectable by the smell of ethyl mercaptan.  They don't need to stalk or hunt wary prey, although they do need to eat quickly to compete with other vultures and carrion eaters, including larger Black and King vultures. I don't know that carrion or hunks of carrion could be carried to the nest without falling apart: at any rate, Turkey vultures rely entirely on regurgitation. The young don't play with food much at all that we've seen: their parents regurgitate it, they eat it, and that settles it. As John Carton noted, the chicks learn to "gulp their food properly" in response to their parents' quick in and out feedings. Eating quickly is a necessary survival skill for turkey vultures, and they don't play with their food.
Eagles build huge nests, and the young eaglets mimic Mom and Dad's nest-building activity from a very early age. They move and place sticks and other nesting material, and play tug-of-war as well (perhaps preparing for the inevitable adult differences over where, exactly, that stick should go).
Turkey vultures don't build nests the way that eagles do. In this case, the adults spent some time preparing the straw prior to egg-laying: they pecked at objects, snapped straw into smaller pieces, and formed a depression for their eggs.  However, they invested very little time in maintaining, building, or caring for it once the eggs were laid. While the young turkey vultures roam around and explore objects, they don't engage in the same kind of stick and nesting material play that the eaglets do. In this case, no nest seems to equal no nesting play.

Turkey vultures and Bald eagles are both social, and both sets of young spend a lot of time interacting with one another. When it comes to play, the eaglets tussle, cuddle, preen, steal food, and play tug of war. The young vultures (vulturelets?) beat each other relentessly, with occasional breaks for preening. While the eaglets appear to play at the complex skills of hunting, nest building, and competing for food, the young vultures appear to play primarily at competition, period. Although Turkey vultures are social, this behavior leads me to wonder about the intensity of TV to TV food competition. Is this all about other carrion eaters, or do adult Turkey vultures beat each other up over food as well?
Although the behavior of the little Turkey vultures may not be as appealing as the eaglets to human watchers, their play and interaction is equally effective at helping to prepare them for the challenges of adult life. John predicts that they will most likely begin flying between August 28 and September 3rd. I've enjoyed watching them in the nest and look forward to his observations once they have left.

If you haven't watched the Turkey vultures, you can see them at: http://www.ustream.tv/missouriturkeyvultures


Dee Kimmel said...

Whoever wrote this blog apparently has spent very little time actually watching the turkey vulture site. They may be raptors, but to compare them to eagles is just idiotic. They are two completely different birds.

lisalassie@yahoo.com said...

I am very disappointed in this article. It includes several major inaccuracies and, just as bad, completely personal bias against turkey vultures (TVs).

It is simply not true that "they spend hours a day beating each other up". Like many animals, the youngsters establishe a hierarchy. When younger, the bigger chick did peck the younger one to establish dominance. So did the eaglets!!! The first hatched eaglet fiercely pecked the next one when they were little.

They also do not "frighten their parents". The eagles stay with the young longer, and take the time to tear up food, so young don't need to mob them. (By the way, there are people who think seeing fish ripped to pieces just as unappealing as the rare sight of intestines.) The TV parents regurgitate food and hungry chicks run to them to stick heads in parents' mouths to eat. Recently, with the TV young getting so big, the parents have been showing dominance over them.

The incorrect information and blatant personal bias in this article spoiled what would otherwise be an interesting comparison of two different types of birds.

gossamette said...
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gossamette said...
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gossamette said...

This blog post is Pro Eagle/Anti Turkey Vulture propaganda. Period. "Evidence" is presented to support one inaccurate personal view.
I am extremely disappointed and wonder how this fits into RRP's Mission.

KathieB said...

It pains me to see speculation put forth in the name of an organization dedicated to research. The comparison of turkey vultures to eagles is like comparing hunters and gatherers in the human realm and ridiculing the gatherers - absurd.

Musings seem to be out of place in a blog that one expects to report findings. I would hope RRP would consider deleting this entry and replacing it with one that provides more facts and less speculation.

Cat Lively said...

What a grossly inaccurate and mean spirited piece.

You have wrongly characterized,and slurred a truly great bird the Turkey Vulture. To be honest, you weren't accurate about the Bald Eagle either.

Those of us that have closely followed the MO Turkey Vulture site are hurt and shocked.

Please correct your mistakes or take down this article. It isnt up to RRP standards. Nor does it promote the protection and conservation of birds, not just Turkey Vultures.

Cat Lively said...

One more thing. perhaps you should join the chat room and explain why you felt compelled to make this piece.

we'd love to hear your reasoning.

lisalassie@yahoo.com said...

I thought of something else. The turkey vultures spend most of their time together, despite the fact that they have an entire loft to roam and could easily avoid each other. They choose to snuggle together at night also. Eaglets are forced to stay together in a nest: vultures seek each other out when they don't have to.

edramo said...

This statement [Although the behavior of the little Turkey vultures may not be as appealing as the eaglets to human watchers,]----Isn't this just an opinion and how many "watchers" hold this opinion? Surely there’s enough interst and watchers that RRP has provided the cam and chats for the Turkey Vultures followers.

If you want to compare Eagles to TV’s and the feeding process I can post several vids of The baby eagles competing for food when the P came.that give evidence of the vicious attacks on siblings in the Decorah nest.The exaggerated reference that their disposition is to fight has no evidence to prove this.

Another unprofessional remark (?)---( Is this all about other carrion eaters, or do adult Turkey vultures beat each other up over food as well? ) I think there's a better word to describe the actions of the feeding of TV's . I certainly wouldn’t call it a beating.

: Somehow the tone of this statement just doesn't sound very professional---Quote"While the eaglets appear to play at the complex skills of hunting, nest building, and competing for food, the young vultures appear to play at competition, period."

Blog states: The young vultures (vulturelets?) beat each other relentessly, with occasional breaks for preening.---- (Haven't seen them beat each other relentessly and would welcome a vid for proof or at least a fair number of watchers to validate this statement.)

Blog states: they don't engage in the same kind of stick and nesting material play that the eaglets do. In this case, no nest seems to equal no nesting play.(This is also debatable as they play all over the loft and ground nesting is un-documentated )

Comparing TV to Eagles isn't all that intelligent. As some said "do you compare apples to oranges to document a behaviour of a species"

Another inaccurate statement (Turkey vultures, on the other hand, eat only dead food,) Turkey Vultures have been documentated of eating pumpkins.

Taken from Amy's Blog--Error in statements or at least huge difference of opinions----“they spend hours a day beating each other up---appear to frighten their parents (the hooligans!)--They are fun to watch (if you don't mind intestinal
tug-of-war) but there are not nearly as many 'awwwwwwhhh' moments. --Both Bald eagles and Turkey vultures are raptors”)

I have never observed them beating each other up for hours. This statement needs documentation. I wouldn’t call the parents frightened. Poor choice of words . And it’s offensive to resort to name calling.....(the hooligans!)—...Not sure what was meant by intestinal tug of war unless it is the feeding which is similar to Eagles placing food in their youngsters mouth as well.

This is .DEBATABLE as recent scientific studies have classified them as in the stork family. And there are plenty of awwwwwwwwwh moments with the TV’s.

Talk about fighting.......this ought to verify the blog errors-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v00vsCVLaQQ&feature=related and there’s a number of video’s of the young eagles fighting with each other also. They even attacked Mom in one video.

Cassandra Freiberger (sfrbrgr) said...

It amazes me that Cyndal Pearce said that she and this author do the same job. Cyndal loves ALL animals, the author here on the other hand has a very biased opinion that she projected. Comparing Eagles and TV's are like comparing apples and oranges, can't be done, equally or fairly. These two raptors have totally different lifestyles and totally different hierarchies for maintaining a balance in nature and the ecology. BTW, there are bald eagles that live at our county landfill and you know what some of them eat, yup, carrion and trash....among other rodents etc. Amy, I ask that you reconsider what you wrote and add and amendment to it so that people are not so disenchanted with RRP right now. Repair the damage while it is still minor.

Cassandra Freiberger (sfrbrgr) said...
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Amy Ries said...

Posters, this was a light-hearted piece filed under 'musings'. I had no intention of smearing or discrediting turkey vultures.

paints4me said...

Oh my people seriously. You have read this in the wrong light. It is a fun and observational tale of our wonderful TV's and the differences observed. Enjoy don't destroy.

Cassandra Freiberger (sfrbrgr) said...

Hmmmm. I find it interesting that only a couple of people find the "Musings" to be in a lighthearted manner. Are there that many of us TV viewers and chatters that took it in the wrong "light". Me thinks thou doest protest too much

hvr246 said...

Please People, get a bit of humor in your lives! Musings=thoughts, especially when aimless. THOUGHTS, people. NOT FACTS! Anyone should have been able to see this was written with humor. You folks need to get a thicker skin, take a deep breath, and step away from your keyboard if you can't see humor here.

KathieB said...

Amy, there is a big difference between "musing", which is contemplative thought, and "amusing", which implies humor. You seem to have confused the two. And the way you wrote this is not humorous. There is nothing in this piece that indicates it is light-hearted; it actually comes across as mean spirited.

When someone comes to a blog presented by a scientific study group,one expects facts. You must be aware of all of the misinformation about turkey vultures on the internet. Why on earth would you want to add to it?

This is not adding to the body of knowledge about turkey vultures and/or eagles and in fact is confusing to someone wishing to learn. Please consider removing it.

edramo said...

This blog is under the RRP supervision and one would consider anything posted would be factual and in line with their mission. Amy's comments are clearly neither factual or in line with RRP's mission to my understanding. This isn't a personal blog. We expect facts and not false information.

Carol Chazin said...

I have become increasingly confused by the supposed "scientific" goals of RRP. This post has added to that confusion. Not only does it contain mistatements of fact, but it also contains misrepresentations or misunderstandings of the observed behaviors of young turkey vultures. These behaviors are in preparation for later social interactions within and outside the family group - both agonistic and breeding behaviors that allow for survival.

Please do the proper research here so that the general ignorance about these extraordinary birds will not be perpetuated. See my CP for a brief bibliography to begin with.

Finally, comparing birds or any animals to one another qualitatively, as appears to be the case here, is unscientific and leads to overall misunderstanding and even encourages anthropomorphizing.

It is my opinion that responding by saying that this post was just meant to be "musings" about Turkey Vultures is disingenuous. To "muse" about something means to think deeply or seriously about it. It does not imply any type of light-hearted amusement.

Carol Chazin (aka "pabirder" and "OnEagleWings)

Cassandra Freiberger (sfrbrgr) said...

Taken from the RRP website: Our mission is to preserve and strengthen raptor populations, expand participation in raptor preservation, and help foster the next generation of preservationists.
This will not be successful is slanted and false views are portrayed by people of your organization. As a faithful viewer, I implore you to take this post completely away.

wskrsnwings said...

I don't know how to respond to this blog. I couldn't wait to read it! The title Turkey Vulture Musings filled my mind with thoughts of all the amazing behaviors we have learned since the TV appeared in March 2011.
What a surprise to see it is a comparison to bald eagles, negative about TV life and filled with inaccuracies about this elusive bird.

Comparison of the turkey vulture to the bald eagle is not helpful to learning their behaviors.
Being open to all lives means being silent and watching, gleaning understanding as to why a bird does what it does to survive. What purpose does the bald eagle serve ? The turkey vultures are cleaners of the earth, silent yet steadfast.

The world of the turkey vulture starts from day one. What we have witnessed this year at the turkey vulture nest will be remembered as breaking history. How will anyone learn what the life of a turkey vulture is if such life is compared to a bald eagle or a red tailed hawk or a Canadian goose or a great horned owl?

The turkey vulture is intelligent, caring, family cohesive through generations, sought out by raptors and other vultures as "food finder" and has been able to adapt to destruction of habitat and life as they knew it.

The turkey vulture deserves its' own musing, proper and correct.

Thank you for listening. ~wskrsnwings/iagal

Ais4apple said...

This blog was written to make the readers see the differences in the two species. There are few similarities - the thought was why are they Raptors. Anyway, I understood the blog - maybe a few statements were misleading other readers. Read it again - hopefully you'll see what the author was trying to muse -make you think - it's good to think - read it again.

paints4me said...


Decorahfamily said...

I have been watching the turkey vultures since born. I have seen the occasional sibling squable but mostly I have observed true compassion and caring for each other. When one was hurt, the other stayed close by. When one was lost in the loft one dark night it cried and the other called to it until it found its way back to the nest. They dont kill but clean up the environment. They stay together after fledging with parents and others in the flock. I love the eagles also but have found a new respect for the turkey vultures. The eagles and the turkey vultures each have their own unique contributions. Both are forever in my heart. I think you need to do some more observations of the turkey vultures. They are sweet, wonderful creatures and deserve so much more credit.

Ann said...

No matter what the original intent was for this blog entry, all statements should be factual. Most of the statements are personal observations of someone who is not an expert, but who tries to come off as one. There is plenty of misinformation floating around about turkey vultures. Blog postings like this only add to inaccuracies about them. Both the bald eagle and the turkey vulture are wonderful birds, but they should not be compared to each other any more than two breeds of cats or two breeds of dogs should be compared. All have their place in nature and we should learn by watching but not judge them. I hope that this blog entry is removed so that anyone else reading it will not be "confused" by the author's intent.

perchin4prey said...

Blog was never meant to be facts, and no where did it mention fact, Questioning RRP's intent and credibility regarding Amys Musing blog is so disrespectful, kind of like biting the hand that feeds you. I also feel bad for Chuck Hird and the embassiment this ordeal may or may not have caused. Hopefully RRP and Amy will return next year. We'll have to wait and see.

edramo said...

Perhaps the large amount and quick responses of comments will illustrate the deep commitment and interest that the Mo Turkey Vultures possess. Perhaps they have a deeper understanding of the RRP mission and purpose of placing this cam in Chuck's barn loft than the author of this "musing." I would think that RRP would look upon this out-cry of indignation at un-factual reporting as all the more reason to continue the study and teaching of one of nature's birds through the cam at Chucks. Many thanks are often expressed to both Chuck and John for their contribution to the Turkey Vultures and for our learning and viewing pleasure.

Ann said...

"Blog was never meant to be facts, and no where did it mention fact". I find this to be disingenuous. If the blog posting was not meant to be taken as fact, the poster should have made it very clear that she was only stating her personal opinions that may or may not be accurate. Other than the word "speculate" in the first paragraph, the rest of the posting is presented as if the author is stating accepted facts about both species of birds.

I don't see where objecting to a posting that misrepresents the turkey vultures is in any way being disrespectful or "biting the hand that feeds you". Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but when presented as what most people have construed as fact, it becomes misleading and disrespectful of the turkey vultures we are all trying to learn about.

Most of us have watched eagles for many years. I have also participated in online seminars and talks given by biologists and experts in eagle behavior. I would never question their statements. But, since the author of this piece is neither, I don't feel that taking exception with her statements is mean spirited or lacking in humor, or causing a problem to anyone connected with the camera or the barn. If RaptorSource is serious about educating people, then they too would want to remove this blog and put up accurate facts regarding the turkey vultures.

perchin4prey said...

Please do not repeat my words back to me, this is not a chat room or a comments page.
All opinions are welcome bad or good. But this is certainly not a place to argue. "I find this to be disingenuous". I adore "the bits" but I am saddened with the lack of respect for Raptor Resource Project.
Will this blog be removed, maybe, but as you read this, the blog still remains.

k said...

oh my gosh,i enjoyed your observations Amy,these people posting negative comments-well,they need to lighten up-I have enjoyed watching the turkey vultures and the Eagles-and yes,I think the tvs are indeed raptors. Thankyou again.

Michael O'Reilly said...

This blog offers commentarary about two specific nestcams operated by RRP, comparing and constrasting the actions on the two specific nest. The intended audience is the viewer who has spent some considerable time at watching the Decorah eagle nest, but may have tuned in some to the Missouri TV nest, and has only one frame of reference to process the activity s/he sees looking into the Turkey Vulture nest. Some commentators apparently spend very little time at either site, and have no idea what' they're reading.

Michael O'Reilly said...

Wow, what a lot of outrage and hate spewed by people who should LIGHTEN UP. I loved this blog post; I laughed and was amused. What people think they see in the nest, and in a blog post, is entirely conditioned by what they bring into the experience. I see a lot of self-righteous indignation and TV expert wannabes. I don't see any attacks against turkey vultures - where are you dredging this stuff out of? From what depth of insecurity and loathing? Geesh! Lighten up, critics - or be banned from RRP nest viewing altogether.

michael huber said...

I've sat in the turkey vultures site for hours on end and never seen cyndal pearce type she does the Same job as amy ries. my wife and I never even seen her type about anyone, she just answers everyones questions and she is absolutely right on. dont think many know this but cyndal is a biologist / veterinarian for the united states wildlife service * forgot her whole title * but she has been a speaker at my sons college and my wife and I were watching the cbs news about all the wild fires and there was cyndal pearce at a wildlife refuge doing rescues of endangered wildlife. maybe RRP should consult with her first before writing such an article. Just a thought.

Joaniesmom said...

First, Amy Reis is far from "idiotic" and you were a little rude to call her that. Second, she wasn't "comparing" eagles and Turkey Vultures, she was "contrasting" them. There's a difference.

RuthMItchell said...

Amy, Don't bother trying to "defend" yourself...anyone who has followed RRP for any length of time KNOWS that you love and care for all Raptors and wildlife and we also certainly can tell that this "article" was written very "tongue in cheek" and was in no way meant to demean the TV!!! The folks doing the jabbing and jawing just need to get over it and get on with their lives!!! We love you Amy!!!