Vivian Young took these photos of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) as they gathered in a local tree to roost for the night. In December, Tehachapi conifers are decorated with Christmas ornaments; in October they are decorated with Turkey Vultures.

The birds are part of a huge cohort of vultures from as far north as Oregon, Washington and even Canada that head south each autumn. They are not moving to follow a food source — the creatures they scavenge die year-round, after all — but instead are following the sun in its apparent movement to the south for the winter. Turkey Vultures rely on warm air thermals to get aloft and soar in search of food, and warm air is in short supply over winter landscapes in the north.

So the vultures head south with the sun, and do not eat during their migration. Exactly how many of these migrants there are is unknown, but tens of thousands of them move down California's Central Valley, typically staying along the western flank of the Sierra Nevada.

They then use at least two mountain passes in Kern County to cross over to the southeast: Walker Pass and Tehachapi Pass. Years of counting in these two locations has shown that more than 30,000 migrating vultures move through each of these passes, so at least 60,000 Turkey Vultures come through Kern County each autumn.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for Turkey Vulture is wukumahaazi, pronounced wuh-kuh-ma-HAAZ-ee.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.