If you’re an avid bird watcher (birder), have you noticed an unusually large number of turkey vultures soaring local skies? And not just in rural areas, but in the city of Allentown as well.
Often referred to as buzzards, or chicken hawks, there are seven species of vultures in North America, but Pennsylvania has but two; the black vulture and more common turkey vulture.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), the turkey vulture (TV) are about 30 inches in length, have wingspans up to six feet, have black and brown feathers and customarily soar with wings held horizontally and can be seen rocking or tilting their wings in flight. They take on the appearance of a kite being flown. And if able to get close enough to them, they stink.
Perhaps this is because they feast mainly on carrion. And because of this, and to probe deep into carrion, their heads and necks are unfeathered and they have a heavy bill that is hook shaped for tearing. Their toes too are strong with curved talons to hold their carrion in tact while feeding.
Turkey vulture meals consist of dead animals on roadways or fields and include deer, squirrels, opossum’s, road-killed cats, groundhogs and other animals. They’ve also been observed killing smaller birds.
During the evening, TV’s usually roost on trees, buildings even home rooftops until their wings dry and are ready for flight in the morning and they're waiting for the thermals to start up.
Breeding habitat includes remote areas inaccessible to predators says the PGC. Remote areas like caves, steep cliffs, hollow logs or stumps, dense thickets, abandoned farm buildings or chicken coops, the snag of a dead tree, in a beech tree cavity 40 feet above the ground and others.
TV’s make little or no nest, preferring to deposit their eggs on the ground, in gravel on cliff edges or on rotted sawdust or chips in logs and stumps.
Female TVs lay one to to three eggs. Eggs are typically 2 ? by 1 ? inches in size and elliptical or long-oval in shape. Their shells are smooth to slightly grainy, dull or creamy white, overlain with irregular spots and bleaches of pale and bright brown in color.
Both parents share incubating and after 30-40 days, the eggs hatch and the young remain in the nest for about four weeks. The young ones, eat carrion regurgitated by their parents.
Vultures are gregarious; groups of eight to 25 or more adults and juveniles may soar in the sky and roost together in trees at night. And both adults and juveniles molt once each year from late winter or early spring until early fall.
Although TVs are a year-round resident of Pennsylvania, it’s common for them to migrate in late February and March then breed in summer. They generally winter in the southeastern Pennsylvania counties of Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and York counties. And occasionally in southwestern counties of Fayette and Greene. However, many TVs overwinter in southern United States, Central America and South America.
Judging from the large numbers of TVs I’ve been seeing in Lehigh County alone, it seems they had a very successful breeding season last summer.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.