American Birding Podcast



Feeding Turkey Vultures

I’m up in the north woods of Wisconsin on a family vacation.  I’ve been coming up to a lake place nestled in 100 acres of woods here for 40 or so years, first as a youngster experiencing the benefits of messing around on the lake and in the woods, and now bringing along my own youngster to season him a bit away from big city life.  I love to be among many old friends like nesting Common Loons, singing Whip-poor-wills, and twittering American Woodcocks but it can be a bit tricky to come up with something new on the birding front after so many years visiting here.  This summer a strange inspiration struck me after I saw a few Turkey Vultures sailing by on the wind.  I got to thinking of how cool vultures are but also how I don’t really see them much “in action”, especially in wooded landscapes.  I wondered if I could successfully attract some ala Bill Thompson III.

I didn’t have similar access to years’ worth of freezer-burned meat so in true science teacher fashion I kept a garbage bag, gloves, and twine in the car and kept my eyes peeled for suitable vulture vittles on trips to town.  Soon enough I spied an unfortunate raccoon, just a touch bloated and fly-blown, which I bagged and tied to the roof rack (I learned years ago to secure deceased biological specimens somewhere on the exterior of vehicles after a nicely antlered but still slightly meaty white-tailed deer head that I found on a bracingly cold CBC gradually developed a strongly disagreeable aroma as it thawed, quite to the dismay of the owner of the spiffy car.)

Back at our lake place that evening I put the coon in a clearing well away from any buildings or roads and deployed a couple of trail cams to keep electronic eyes on the proceedings.  I didn’t know what to expect for turnout in terms of response speed or numbers but I was pleasantly surprised by both.  The cams showed that by 8:45 the next morning a committee of at least eleven Turkey Vultures had gathered for their turn at the carcass, and by the middle of the next day there wasn’t much beyond fur and bones left.  There didn’t seem to be much (if any) evidence of conflict and I wonder how they decide who has feeding precedence?

It was a pretty fun experiment and I’ve got my eyes peeled for more vulture food- perhaps next time I’ll try putting the roadkill in more dense woods to see how that affects the vultures’ detection abilities.  Here are a few stills from my Reconyx HC500 and three video clips strung together from my Scoutguard SG565 showing some of the proceedings- hope you enjoy them!