A perfect form for soaring high
Jim Jenkins took this photo of a Turkey Vulture soaring in the Tehachapi sky in the late afternoon sunlight.
The bird in the image is a juvenile, as evidenced by its gray head. Mature adults have red heads.
Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) migrate south each autumn, passing through the Tehachapi Mountains in great circling flocks that may number more than 100 birds in single “kettle,” as they are called when they climb a rising thermal like a spiral staircase. The swirling vultures, all circling in the same direction, resemble a kettle being stirred.
The groups of migrating Turkey Vultures move through mostly in September and October, and typically move in fluid, undefined groups that may coalesce and split up over the course of their journey south.
Unlike many migrating songbird species, which fly all day and all night at times, Turkey Vultures are strictly diurnal travelers. They stop soaring and find roosts for the night in tall trees, ending their daily journey each afternoon when the sun drops low towards the western horizon.
The Tehachapi Mountains Birding Club has conducted past Turkey Vulture Counts, and confirmed that more than 30,000 of them move through Tehachapi during the autumn migration.
The Turkey Vultures’ return movement is more mysterious, however — they move south in a flood, but appear to return north in a trickle of just a few birds at a time. I have yet to hear an explanation of exactly why their return should be so different from their initial movement to the south.
For all that has been determined about the annual epic Turkey Vulture migration, there is still much to be learned.
The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) word for Turkey Vulture is wukumaazi, pronounced
NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: email@example.com.