For example, in Texas last year, someone pointed up to a vulture and said, “That’s a turkey buzzard. Nasty, mean birds.”
Since the turkey vulture is one of my favorite birds after hearing so many Native American creation stories about them, so I’d done some reading on them and I said, “Don’t you mean the black vulture?”
He said, “No, black vultures are the nice ones.”
Actually, he had the identification right, but got the personalities backwards.
To the left are pictures of turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are shy and gentle, avoiding confrontation. The beaks of turkey vultures are relatively weak and dull, and so are unable to rip open tough carcass hides.
For this reason, turkey vultures often hang out with black vultures. They’re about the same relative size, yet their
beaks are capable of shredding tough hides. The black vultures gorge themselves and leave the rest to the turkeys. Cattle ranchers in Texas have reported vultures taking out newborn calves. They quickly blamed the turkey vultures, who are usually the only ones remaining at the black vulture’s kill.
The black vultures benefit from this cross-species flocking, too. A black vulture’s sense of smell sucks for a vulture, whereas turkey vultures have the best sense of smell of all land mammals, able to detect food miles away.
On the right are pictures of the Black Vulture. They’re easy to distinguish once the points are brought out.
This is the face of a black vulture. Their faces are gray or black. Obviously.
Commonly, you will see vultures from below. The wings of the black vulture are merely tipped in white. Turkey vultures have a broad band of white on the underside of the wing that spans the entire wing.
You’ll also see a lot of vultures on the ground, where they are harder to distinguish. The photograph below is a good example of turkey and black vultures hanging out together, just as they might be at a feeding. You can easily tell the turkeys from the blacks just by their red heads.
Vultures are fascinating and amazing birds and I encourage you to read up on them to find out more about them. And don’t rely on the identifications of a Texas redneck unless it involves trucks, horses, dogs, or guns!