Monday, August 24, 2009

I think I'll stick with the grocery store!

The other day, I was staring out my window when some movement caught my eye. I looked closer and saw a Turkey Vulture. He (or she) had found a tasty tidbit and was pulling it away from the road and behind a tree to enjoy.
Now, Turkey Vultures eat things that you or I would not. In fact, they eat things that a lot of other animals will not eat. They enjoy dining on carrion, otherwise known as dead stuff. Some of this dead stuff can be really yucky! Now I am not sure what my vulture friend was dining on but I am sure I would not enjoy his dinner selection.
By eating carrion vultures serve a very important function in the ecosystem. They help clean it up. Without vultures and other carrion eaters there would be some seriously gross things hanging around!
Here in Florida we have two types of vultures, Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. Black Vultures are almost totally black except for the white patches or "windows" seen on the underside of their wings while flying. Turkey Vultures, on the other hand, have a red face and head. In flight they are identified by the silvery trailing edge to their wings. They also soar with their wings in a slight "V" shape. Their flight can also be described at wobbly.
Vultures have some really cool adaptations to help them do their jobs. Have you ever seen a vulture up close? Some will say it is a face only a mother could love! Basically vultures are pretty much bald. There is a reason for this. Let's for a minute imagine you are a vulture. Its time for dinner and you spot a nice yummy rotting carcass of a deer. You come in for a landing and decide to eat. Well, as a vulture (or even a bird for that matter) you don't have arms or utensils. What do you do??? You stick your head into the animal and begin eating. Now, if you had a head full of feathers what do you think would happen? You would get a bunch of dead animal gunk in your feathers and no easy way to clean it off. Adaptation to the rescue--bald head!
Turkey Vultures also exhibit a behavior that would most certainly gross you out--they pee on their legs! Now they don't do this just because they know it will gross you out. Again, this is an adaptation that helps them. You see, vultures can't sweat like us to cool down so when they get hot, one way for them to cool down is to pee on their legs. Have you ever run through a sprinkler on a hot summer day to cool down? Its the same idea. Also, since the urine contains acids from the vultures digestive system it helps to kill off the bacteria on the birds legs that is gets from walking around all that dead stuff!
So, really vultures are pretty cool animals if you ask me! I hope my vulture friend enjoyed his dinner as much as I enjoyed watching him!

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