By Sharon Wootton, Columnist
Is it a turkey vulture or an eagle soaring high overhead?
If it’s too far away to tell whether it has the skinny featherless red head that only a mother vulture could love or the thicker eagle head, depend on the vulture’s flying behavior.
Just remember the V in vulture. A shallow V shape is the way they hold their 6-foot-long wings. Eagles’ wings are held straight across. A vulture’s flight seems to wobble, as if the bird needs to constantly make small adjustments.
Lynda Van Wyk of Monroe recently saw turkey vultures in her area, an unusual spotting for her.
“The only other time I have seen them was on Guemes Island. What are they doing here?”
The quick answer is: looking for carcasses.
The longer one is that turkey vultures have a major migration route from the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Each fall, a couple thousand birds migrate across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Olympic Peninsula and keep heading south from there.
Each spring, they fly north to Vancouver island, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast and islands in the Georgia Strait.
But many vultures beat to a different drummer. They are uncommon to fairly common summer resident in Washington, depending on your location.
Vultures are rather cavalier about their nests, generally laying the eggs on bare ground, sometimes in a cave, or in abandoned barns or outbuildings.
A group of vultures is called a rafter (or a gobble, a gang or a wake). They sleep in roosts, usually in a stand of trees.
Their scientific name means pacifier or cleanser. The Cherokee Nation called them Peace Eagle, partly because of a resemblance at a distance to an eagle, and partly because vultures don’t kill the carrion that they eat.
Unlike the eagle’s talons and beak designed to catch its prey, then rip and tear its meal, a vulture has feet (think chicken) that can’t carry food in flight and a thinner, weaker beak than an eagle.
Here are a few other facts:
- Despite eating rotting meat, vultures don’t get sick.
- Males and females appear identical.
- A vulture does not have a voice box. Its vocal repertoire is limited to hisses and grunts.
- A featherless head is suited to digging deep into carrion and easy to clean.
- Vultures have terrific eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. In the air, they are watching and smelling for carcasses.
- Although we associate vultures with carrion, their diet is much wider and may make up as much as 50 percent of their intake. They’ve been recorded eating seeds, grass, grasshoppers, juniper berries, yews and the feces of coyote.
The medium-size aquatic frog has been listed as a state endangered species since 1997 and is a candidate for federal protection.
While once common, this species is known to persist in only six river drainages, half the number documented in historical records.
Oregon spotted frogs remain in Whatcom, Skagit, Thurston, Skamania and Klickitat counties.
The main threat to the remaining populations include alteration, or loss of wetlands and river channels, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.
Because the frog is not expected to recover without intervention, the draft plan outlines a variety of measures to address the species’ decline.
The plan is posted at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/species.
Send comments by Aug. 9 to email@example.com, or to Endangered Species Section, WDFW, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.