The Bufflehead Birder

January 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Vultures

It was Sunday morning at Valley Forge National Historical Park. The air was chill and crisp, church bells tolled, and atop the Washington Memorial Chapel, vultures basked in the sun.


My fingers were cold from spending the morning hours waiting for some no-show White-winged Crossbills that had been seen earlier in the week foraging for seeds in the hemlocks and spruce behind the chapel. The vultures had it good, I thought.  A nice view of the surrounding woodland and open meadows, and the sun on their backs and outspread wings. I envied them as I flexed my fingers and rubbed my hands.


A bright “Colorado-blue” sky provides a nice backdrop for two Black Vultures.

Vultures have been a longtime member of The Bufflehead Birder’s Favorite Bird Club. When I was a kid, there was something haunting in those Old Westerns; that floating spiral of black birds overhead when someone was about to kick the bucket.  In 1967 my family took a 2-week camping trip to Colorado, and should you ever ask her, my mother will tell you that my big memory of our trip was the dead cow with the Turkey Vultures around it. 

Unusual and beautifully adapted to cleaning the countryside of dead things, these birds still hold a fascination for me, and I love their faces even though I’m not their mother.


Vultures have some peculiar thermo-regulatory habits. If they want to take the chill off they turn their backs to the sun and spread their wings to absorb heat. If they want to cool off they urinate on the scales of their legs and feet–a practice called urohydrosis. The Turkey Vulture below takes in the sun’s heat.


Turkey Vultures, mistakenly called Buzzards or Turkey Buzzards, are larger than Black Vultures and have the colorful red head.


No church is complete without its gargoyles.

 For an interesting read on the adaptations of this amazing carrion bird check out this link from Audubon Magazine.


  1. I never knew about urohydrosis, thanks for the informative and entertaining blog. I have always been intrigued by vultures (but the cardinal is still my favorite). The digiscope shots are great!

    Comment by Kari — January 28, 2009 @ 12:50 am

  2. I thought the urohydrosis was an interesting tidbit, too. Vulture urine is also a strong disinfectant, which helps keep vulture feet free of bacterial infections they might otherwise pick up while wading about in carrion. Glad you enjoyed the vultures.

    Comment by admin — January 28, 2009 @ 2:24 am

  3. Not as much as a comment as a sighting in what I think is a odd area to see black vultures. I live in arvada colorado lots of homes and a good size green belt and have sighted 5 black vultures in my neighborhood. if anyone has a comment or intrest please email me.

    Comment by Brent — April 11, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

  4. Hi Brent,
    When I lived in Colorado I never saw any Black Vultures, just the Turkey Vultures. When I get back out that way I will keep my eyes open for them. Where did you see yours?
    Back here there are tons of both kinds. They really like the high TV station towers or the nearby lime quarry where they can bask in the sun.


    Comment by admin — April 19, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress