Toshimi Kristof took these photos of a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) on a boulder in Sycamore Canyon in Bear Valley Springs. Although these birds are thought of as having uniformly black feathers, the image of the vulture stretching its wings clearly shows that their feathers are more dark brown than black.

Ravens, on the other hand, are genuinely black regardless of the direction of the light or the way you are looking at them. Hold a raven's feather in your hand, and it is typically a shiny, coal black from any angle.

Turkey Vultures often appear black as you view them from below, silhouetted against the sun and the sky above. However, under the right lighting conditions, you can see that they are more a dark chocolate brown than black. And if you hold a Turkey Vulture's feather in your hand, you can see the brown chestnut highlights and light edges.

The Turkey Vulture's scientific name can seem baffling — Cathartes is from the Greek word for "purify or cleanse," the same origin as the word catharsis, but the species name is derived either from the Latin "aureus" meaning "gold," or "aura" meaning "wind." So either a golden purifier or a purifying wind. I choose the latter, since Turkey Vultures ride the wind, and in cleaning up carcasses they do serve as a kind of purifier.

Turkey Vultures migrate through Tehachapi Pass each autumn in great numbers, exceeding 30,000 birds. They come back through in a much more dispersed fashion. They also pair up and nest in the Tehachapi Mountains, typically in boulder outcroppings in remote canyons, since they are sensitive to disturbances while nesting.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) name for Turkey Vulture is wukumahazi, pronounced wuh-kuh-ma-HAZ-i.

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: