Also known as the turkey buzzard, the John crow or the carrion crow, the turkey vulture is the most widespread of the New World vultures.
The turkey-like looking red bald head of the adult turkey vulture isn’t exactly beautiful, but there is a good reason behind it. When it is eating carrion, it must often stick its head inside the carcass to reach the meat. A feathery head would capture unwanted pieces of the vulture’s meal (just like food can stick in men’s beards), along with all the bacteria such pieces would host. The bald head, ultimately, is a matter of hygiene.
Another interesting thing, turkey vultures do not have a voice box and thus have limited vocalization capabilities. They can only utter hisses and grunts. They usually hiss when they feel threatened. Grunts are commonly heard from hungry young, and adults in courtship.
So, as you drive through the Oregon countryside and spot these native beauties (choke choke), you need to know that they are protected.That means if you see one, just let it alone. Just let it hiss and grunt by itself – smile.
Vulture photo by Larry Rea