V is for Vulture

Turkey vultures hold their wings in the shape of a V as they soar through the sky.

The Ides of March – March 15 – is best known as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate. But it is also the day the swallows famously come back to Capistrano and, less famously, the buzzards return to Northeast Ohio. The buzzards – or rather turkey vultures – have been gone since last fall. Did you miss them? They are migratory, leaving NE Ohio in the fall for warmer climes and returning in early spring for breeding.

For years the Cleveland Metroparks Hinckley Reservation celebrated the turkey vultures' return to Whipp’s Ledges in mid-March. There won’t be a Buzzard Day celebration there this year due to Covid-19. But you can celebrate Buzzard Day on your own by going out and spotting for them. And you don’t have to wait for the Ides. Start looking now, you might spot a few early arrivals.

Any place with a wide-open patch of sky will do. Kettles of turkey vultures – yes, kettles – are most often seen soaring in tight circles, riding the thermals, high in the sky. You can tell they are vultures, and not eagles or hawks, because vultures hold their wings up in the shape of a V.

Turkey vultures may seem tiny when you spot a kettle up high in the sky. But they are very large, mostly black birds, almost 3 feet in length, with striking bald red reads. You can’t see their red heads from a distance. But you can see the turkey vulture’s red head up close at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in the Metroparks Huntington Reservation. They have a turkey vulture in the Outdoor Wildlife Exhibit. Advance online registration (www.lensc.org) is required.

Turkey vultures are critical to our ecosystem. They do not kill live prey, but use their keen sense of smell to locate and scavenge dead carcasses. They have strong stomachs and can feed on carcasses without getting food poisoning. But they can get lead poisoning from lead shot in carcasses left by hunters. So do our vultures, eagles – including the Avon Lake bald eagles – and other birds of prey a favor and use lead-free ammunition.

And start looking up. Remember, V is for vulture.

Maryann Fitzmaurice

Retired physician (pathologist). Resident of Bay Village. Outdoor and wildlife enthusiast, bird watcher, antiquer.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 9:47 AM, 03.02.2021