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For those of you who do not consider vultures — Turkey Vultures in the case of today’s post — to be beautiful, I invite you to consider today’s images. These are images of two Turkey Vultures in what is known as the “horaltic pose.” These vultures have a wingspan of about five and one-half feet (about 1.67 meters). With wings spread like this, these big birds’ grace and beauty becomes apparent.
I made both of these images within minutes of each other about a week ago on a very hot morning. Both birds sit with their backs to the sun, their wings outstretched. I made the first image with the bird strongly backlit by the sun, which shines through the vulture’s wing primaries. I made the second image with the sun coming over my shoulder and illuminating the bird from behind.
It’s not uncommon to see vultures — both Black and Turkey — sitting like this, particularly during morning hours. Other species do this occasionally, but not so dramatically or as frequently as do vultures. Ornithologists have offered several theories to explain the horaltic pose, but the truth is that no one knows for sure why these birds do this.
One theory is that the birds are exposing their wings to direct sunlight because sunlight kills the bacteria that the vultures may have acquired on their feathers while dining on carrion. Another theory has it that the vultures are warming their wing and shoulder muscles prior to flying. Others believe that the birds do this to dry their feathers.
My theory, as plausible as any, in my opinion, is that vultures do this as a kind of stretching exercise. Perhaps they’re ridding themselves of kinks in their shoulder muscles after hours of perching with wings folded. In any event, it is a striking sight and makes for powerful images when these birds pose this way.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm DO II lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f5.6. First image @ 1/2000, second image @ 1/3200.