Who Are You Calling Turkey?

There are some special inhabitants of the SFPUC’s watershed lands – turkey vultures.

While driving anywhere in the Sunol Valley, one will almost always spot a committee of vultures waiting to see what their next meal will be.

An image of a turkey vulture. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Turkey vultures, also known as turkey buzzards, are the most widespread species of vulture in the New World. They are so named because of their resemblance to the male wild turkey. Their range spreads from Canada all the way to the southernmost tip of South America. The SFPUC fondly considers them nature’s garbage collectors because they feed almost exclusively on carrion and perform a crucial natural function of picking clean disease carrying carcasses.

Turkey vultures, like this one spotted near Calaveras Reservoir, like to roost in bare trees to keep an eye (and nose) out for their next meal.

Vultures are probably one of the most misunderstood birds in the animal kingdom. Some interesting facts about these creatures include:

  • Turkey vultures have one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom.
  • It’s a misconception that they actually prefer their food rotten. However, vultures do have a cool adaptation; their stomach acid is almost comparable to battery acid.
  • Nothing goes to waste with a vulture. They even make good use of semi-digested and digested food.

Although few people would call them cute, they do perform a crucial role in natural areas.