The Black Vulture and the Turkey Vulture are the two predominant species of vultures in Texas. They are birds of prey, which play a pivotal role in ecological balance as they consume carrion.
While crucial for ecological balance, vultures have the most disgusting habits of all bird species. They vomit to escape predators, urinate on themselves, and dip their heads deep in the rotten flesh of dead animals.
Whereas vultures are the most misunderstood and underrated birds of prey, these carrion-eating birds are crucial for the environment in various ways. Scientists observe the behavior of these majestic birds to determine if there’s an onset of a disease.
What Are the Most Interesting Facts about Vultures?
In a large part because of their remarkable senses of smell and hearing, vultures or buzzards can detect the presence of dead animals far away. They are amazing sentinels as they can detect disease-carrying organisms such as insects and other small animals from some distance away. Let’s see some cool facts about vultures.
They Have Amazing Eyesight
Vultures also have keen eyesight, enabling them to spot carrions from hundreds of feet above. They can spot carcasses as small as 3 feet from four miles away in open fields. Of the vultures in Texas, the Turkey species have the best eyesight.
Vultures Help Clean Environment
Human beings have waste management professionals. Animals have vultures. These birds are in charge of cleaning up the environment of dead animals. In doing so, they prevent pathogens or diseases from spreading.
They’re also the CDC of the animal kingdom. These birds are reliable investigators and can provide early warnings about an outbreak of disease or natural disaster.
They Are Excellent Fliers
Vultures are also incredible fliers, able to fly for hundreds of miles to locate carrions. While the Texas Turkey and Black vulture are yet to win awards, the Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture of the Sahel region in Central Africa is the highest-flying bird on earth!
That doesn’t mean they can’t fly high and far. These vultures are efficient fliers as they soar and glide high in the sky by taking advantage of thermal currents.
Vultures Are Solitary Birds
Vultures are typically solitary birds. Males and females form temporary pairs during part of the mating season, and young vulture pairs remain together as well. The large stick-like structures on their feet prevent them from falling when perching atop buildings and trees.
Vultures Have Hyper Acidic Stomachs
Probably made to clean up the environment as much as they can, vultures eat a lot of food in one sitting. They have a very high metabolic rate that allows them to consume plenty of food. Their hyper-acidic stomachs allow them to digest bones and meat efficiently. Ornithologist and biologist Hansen claims that the acid in a vulture’s stomach is up to 100 times stronger than the acid in a human stomach.
Vultures Have Bald Heads
Have you ever asked yourself why vultures have bald heads? Studies show that vultures have bald heads and bare necks to prevent them from soiling their feathers when feeding. Their bald heads also help them in thermoregulation. Indeed, infrared photography of the griffon vulture shows that its bald patches are warmer than the rest of the bird.
The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Social but smaller and more aggressive than the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture is an intelligent bird that occasionally preys on small animals like possums, calves, and lambs. They care for their chicks until they are fully fledged and their bodies are covered with black feathers.
Often, these birds of prey flock together with the Turkey Vulture since the latter has incredible eyesight, which allows it to locate carcasses easily. Black vultures don’t have vocal organs, therefore, they make grunts and hisses, instead of calls and trills like other birds.
Because of their dark plumage, these birds absorb heat easily. Astonishingly, they defecate and urinate on their bodies to cool themselves off. Black vultures are monogamous and territorial. As a pair, they build their nests on the ground in thickets, logs, or caves.
Wingspan: 63-72 in (160-183 cm)
Length: 25-32 in (64-81 cm)
Weight: 28-85 oz (0.8-2.4 kg)
Where To Find Black Vultures in Texas
You can find Black vultures in the woodlands, savannas, grasslands, and deserts of southern Texas. However, you’re more likely to see them around major cities like Houston and Dallas and not in open fields. They have an expansive range and you can find them as far as New England, but they’re common in the warmer southern states.
What Is the Status of Black Vultures in Texas?
Black vulture populations in Texas are stable despite massive poisoning, hunting, and trapping by ranch farmers in the first half of the 20th century.
Farmers thought these birds were invasive, as they sometimes preyed on sick calves, lambs, and vulnerable livestock. However, continuous degradation of their habitats can reduce their population.
The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Loosely resembling turkeys, the Turkey vultures have big and bald red heads and their feathers are brownish with streaks of black. In flight, their gray-colored wings form a big “V,” a great distinguishing feature for any birder. With sharp dark-brown eyes, these vultures can locate carrion several miles away.
Wingspan: 68—72 in (173—183 cm)
Length: 26–32 in (66—81 cm)
Weight: 51.2 oz (1.4 kg)
Where To Find Turkey Vultures in Texas
The Turkey Vulture is quite common throughout Texas. You can locate it in the forests and swamplands of the east, prairies of the west, and the arid expanses of the Trans-Pecos. They’re scarce in northwest Texas but they have been spotted severally in the Big Bend area. These birds have a long breeding season and the female lays 1 to 2 eggs.
Unlike the Black Vulture, which can hunt sometimes, the Turkey Vulture depends on caring for survival. Turkey vultures love soaring and gliding above open woodlands and grasslands scanning for food.
What Is the Status of Turkey Vultures in Texas?
The status of the Turkey Vulture in Texas is good, with a slight increase in population over the past century. These birds sit at the top of the food chain; hence, they are not vulnerable to predators.
They have a long lifespan and take a long time to mature. You can find them feasting on washed-up fish and roadkills.
Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures are the two species of vultures in Texas. They’re found all year round throughout the state and their populations are quite stable.
Often, these birds are referred to as buzzards. It’s thought British colonialists introduced the term when they confused the high-flying vultures with the buzzard hawks in the UK.