Most residents of the Tehachapi Mountains are aware of the annual autumn migration of vast numbers of Turkey Vultures through the area — more than 30,000 birds pass through here in September and October. Not many people realize that a few of these large dark raptors are actually hatched here.
While Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) will scavenge on roadkill and other carrion on streets and near houses, they prefer to nest in isolated, remote areas far from people. As a result, few people ever see a Turkey Vulture nesting site.
Raven nests are common on utility poles (and even large business signs), and Red-tailed Hawks frequently nest in oak trees where they are visible, but Turkey Vultures in our area nest most frequently in rock crevices and on ledges in boulder outcroppings away from human activity.
While their larger relative the California Condor is famous for laying only one egg each nesting season, Turkey Vultures may lay up to three, though one egg is also common. Turkey Vultures don't actually build much of a nest, they just scrape out a smooth place to lay an egg.
After laying an egg or two, the vultures incubate it for a month or longer in a nesting site that is typically 10 degrees or more cooler than the surroundings. The chick or chicks are hatched downy and helpless.
The parent vultures feed their fuzzy chick with regurgitated food that they have gathered. Turkey Vultures lack the strong, grasping talons of eagles and hawks, so they are unable to bring large food items to the nest like other birds of prey do.
After a total nesting period of up to three months, the young vulture or vultures are able to fledge and leave the nest to accompany their parents, learning to fly and find food.
Lizzie and Mike Novotny of Stallion Springs were privileged to observe a Turkey Vulture nest on their property in a remote part of Stallion Springs this year. After Mike spotted a large downy white chick sitting alone in a rock crevice, they continued to observe the vulture chick until it fledged.
Vultures can live and produce chicks for many years, and since this nest site proved to be a success, perhaps the vulture parents will return next year and use the same location on the Novotnys' property again. There are condor nesting sites in rocky cliffs that biologists suspect have been used for hundreds of years.
I have found a few vulture nesting sites in the Tehachapi Mountains over the years, but these always entailed hiking to get to them because of their secluded location. Turkey Vultures are mostly non-confrontational birds, and they seem to prefer to raise their young in isolation.
It won't be too long before we start to see the circling kettles of migrating Turkey Vultures heading south as they follow the sun. Perhaps a few of these birds will be hometown locals that will return next year to nest in isolated canyons and rocky cliffs in our mountains.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.