2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

See More Vultures

Learn the secrets of nature's greatest recyclers

by: Terry Krautwurst

Illustration by Jackie McCaffrey
Illustration by Jackie McCaffrey

Talk about an image problem. Vultures are so underappreciated that the name itself is an insult. But seen from a thousand feet below, turkey (left) and black (right) vultures, the two species most common in North America, are a beautiful sight as they glide effortlessly on broad, near-motionless wings. In fact, many people mistake high-flying vultures for eagles and hawks, even though genetic evidence puts them in the stork family. Sure, their sharp beaks and bald heads are better adapted for gobbling carcasses than winning beauty pageants (bare skin simplifies post-meal cleanup). But by consuming dead animals, these birds play a crucial ecological role in preventing disease transmission. Here's how to identify–and appreciate–these natural recyclers on your next hike.

Vultures are too heavy to stay aloft for long by flapping alone, so they seek a boost from thermals–rising columns of warm air. Turkey vultures, with six-foot wingspans, leave their roosts as the morning air warms. Smaller but heavier black vultures wait until stronger updrafts develop later in the afternoon. Cruising at 40 mph and gliding from one thermal to another, a vulture can remain aloft all day, traveling more than 100 miles while seldom flapping its wings.

Vultures were once trapped and killed in the erroneous belief that they spread diseases. In fact, their digestive acids kill bacteria and viruses found in decomposing flesh. Loss of nesting habitat remains a threat, but North American vulture populations are strong and increasing, partially due to a messy side effect of human development–roadkill.

Turkey vultures are among the few birds with an acute sense of smell: They can detect the gases produced by decaying flesh, which helps them find carrion even while flying over dense foliage. Black vultures hunt by sight alone and fly high to locate food, watching both for carcasses and congregating turkey vultures. Although smaller, black vultures are more aggressive, and will block out turkey vultures from a carcass–and sometimes even attack and kill newborn cattle and pets.

Turkey vultures prefer open and semi-open areas like grasslands and farmland, where food is easier to locate. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada during the summer, and migrate to southern states during the winter, with some subspecies traveling as far as South America. Black vultures prefer warmer, low-lying habitats, and only overlap with their kin in the Southeast and lower Mid-Atlantic.

Vulture pairs form monogamous bonds following aerial and ground courtship rituals. After mating in early spring, the female lays two eggs in a shallow depression in a cave, abandoned building, or sheltered area. Both parents share the egg- and chick-tending duties, feeding the nestlings by regurgitation. Chicks can fly at 10 to 13 weeks, but stay with their parents for several months longer. When their eggs or chicks are threatened by raccoons or owls, vultures will regurgitate semi-digested meat as a foul-smelling defense.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
May 30, 2013

Cheap china jersey sale, china jersey cheap, new nfl jersey cheap, 2013 new nfl jersey sale, nfl jersey 2013, cheap baseball jerseys
baseball jersey for sale, cheap ncaa jersey, wholesale nba jerseys,wholesale nhl jerseys,discount nhl jerseys,
nike nfl jersey wholesale ,new nfl jersey wholesale
cheap mlb jersey, mlb jerseys cheap cheap nhl jersey
wholesale mlb jerseys cheap nhl jerseys wholesale nhl jerseys, basketball jerseys cheap, nba jerseys for sale. college ncaa jerseys
Australia basketball jerseys sale. Australia soccer jerseys cheap.

Jul 07, 2011

thanks. now i can identify what we have here in FL...Turkey Vulture..have a lot of them around.


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Health and Fitness
2014 fitness updates
Posted On: Aug 22, 2014
Submitted By: RebeccaD
Rocky Mountains
Who Has Plans in the Winds This Year?
Posted On: Aug 22, 2014
Submitted By: OldBill

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions