Flocks Of Turkey Vultures — Harbingers Of Autumn
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Lately, I’ve begun to see many Turkey Vultures in my drives around rural southern Arizona. Increasingly, they’re showing up in flocks, sometimes of a dozen or more birds.
On a couple of occasions recently I’ve seen a flock of these big birds, driven a couple of miles, and encountered another flock.
Turkey Vultures are not ordinarily gregarious birds. They will sometimes perch together and they will gather in numbers if there is a source of food such as a deceased large animal. But, most of the time, the vultures seem to prefer to be alone. It’s quite common during the summers here to see single birds soaring over the landscape or perched. Flocks of them are kind of unusual.
So, why is it that suddenly, flocks of Turkey Vultures are showing up? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that these birds are migratory. In the western United States Turkey Vultures from all over the Upper Plains and Rocky Mountains head south for the winter and their migration route takes them through Arizona. The birds seem to find comfort in numbers as they head south and so, they may band together during their journey as birds of other species do.
The presence of these birds in flocks signals the advent of autumn, even though our daytime high temperatures remain in the mid-90s. Hey, these birds may not have the charm of leaves turning red and gold but at least it’s something.
The suddenly abundant flocks of Turkey Vultures won’t last. In a few weeks most of them will have resumed their flight south, to winter in places as far north as Mexico and as far south as northern South America.
By the way, most of the Turkey Vultures that are native to southern Arizona seem to join up with the migrators each fall and fly south. A few stragglers will hang on throughout the winter but the number of local birds will diminish greatly until the migrators start to return beginning in February. That’s true even though the birds that are passing through apparently find plenty to eat alongside our roads and highways.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4X Telextender. The first two images shot at M setting, ISO 800, f9 @ 1/1600. The third image shot at aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/800.