Turkey vultures

Three Turkey Vultures are arranged on adjacent fence posts in between recent storms.

Eric Parker took this photo in Golden Hills recently of three Turkey Vultures arranged on adjacent fence posts in between recent storms.

"I saw these big three on Country Club just east of Mariposa, and in addition to the ones seen here, there was one in the tree behind them, and at last two more across the street. It was a beautiful sight," Parker says.

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are big birds, larger than the ravens for which they are often initially mistaken, with wingspans of nearly six feet. They are patient scavengers, and generally avoid a potential meal that shows any signs of life.

They have low metabolisms, and typically do not flap their wings except when necessary. When soaring, they usually hold their wings in a shallow "V" configuration, and will circle and turn as much as needed to use rising updrafts to keep them aloft. This leads to a mnemonic used to identify them: "Turkey Vultures tip," meaning that they tip to the left or right as they strive to avoid flapping their wings, while raptors and ravens are much more likely to simply use wingbeats.

While they can appear dark black from a distance or on overcast days, bright sunshine reveals that Turkey Vultures usually are brown on the upperside of their primary feathers, especially on mature birds. Adults have red heads, while juvenile vultures have gray heads that gradually transition to red.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for Turkey Vulture is wukumahaazi, pronounced wuku-mah-HAAZ-zi. California Condors were sometimes known as wokid wukumahaazi, meaning "Chief Vulture."

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.