Friday, April 27, 2012

Nesting Turkey Vultures?

While doing our bluebird nestbox checks last Sunday, we saw two turkey vultures wheeling in the sky. Then they flew toward an abandoned barn and landed on what I think would be called the entrance to the hayloft (forgive me, I don't come from a farm background).

I did some quick research at the Turkey Vulture Society website and learned that turkey vultures do, in fact, commonly nest in abandoned barns. This setting is apparently an adequate equivalent for their traditional habit of nesting in caves, hollow logs, burrows and the like.

Pair of turkey vultures looking into barn

The thing is, we saw a group of five turkey vultures on the roof of this barn four weeks ago, our first "TV" sighting of the year. It was a very unusual sight to see a group like this.

Four of the five turkey vultures seen on same barn roof in March

So now I'm thinking that what we saw in March was quite possibly last year's family group, freshly returned from their wintering grounds, and maybe mom and pop are planning on raising a new brood in the same spot this year. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says they may reuse a nesting site for many years.

The Turkey Vulture Society says TVs raise one brood a year, with one to three eggs but most commonly two. So a family group of five is certainly possible. They don't really build nests -- they just scratch out an indentation somewhere or arrange some vegetation. They incubate their eggs for close to 40 days, and fledging takes place 70-80 days after that. First-year vultures have gray, rather than red, heads. Now I wish the earlier photo was clearer so I could see if some of the heads weren't fully red yet.

Everything I've now read suggests it is very likely that this barn is a nesting spot for turkey vultures, and it's in a location we'll pass weekly as we do our bluebird rounds. I'm looking forward to what we might see of turkey vulture family life -- from a respectful distance -- in the weeks ahead.

I've just learned of a live turkey vulture cam installed in a barn in Missouri where vultures are apparently nesting. Read the article here, which contains a link to the live stream.


Michael said...

Very cool - 'looks like good TUVU nesting habitat to me.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I am looking forward to your updates!

Richard said...

Ran the photo through Photoshop and it appears that all of the birds have red heads.

Penelopedia said...

I was just doing some more reading. Wikipedia cites Kenn Kaufman's Lives of North American Birds in saying that TV courtship rituals involve several individuals performing hopping movements around a circle. It also says family groups remain together until fall, not into the following year, and also that three is a rare brood size. So I'm thinking it's not so likely that it was a returning family group we saw on the barn roof in March. Any thoughts along those lines, anyone?

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