Turkey Vultures – Feathered Gatekeepers

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Resting Turkey Vulture and a red gateResting Turkey Vulture and a red gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, -1.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

First I want to say it is May 17th and there is at least an inch of snow on the ground as I write this and it is still coming down! I checked and the latest date for snow in the Salt Lake City area is May 18th so we are one day off from a three-way tie. Crazy.

On two different dates in early May I was able to photograph Turkey Vultures on red and green gates in northern Utah.

Turkey Vulture walking on a red gateTurkey Vulture walking on a red gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

Some gates here are wooden, or wire with wooden braces and some are metal. Usually it is only the metal gates that are painted in different colors. I’m sure this red gate was brighter when it was new but the sun has probably bleached some of the vibrant color away.

Turkey Vulture perched on a red ranch gateTurkey Vulture perched on a red ranch gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

I know that some people associate gates with death and shedding our mortal coils for instance “Pearly Gates” and the “Gates of Hell” but these vultures are just roosting and perching on the gates because… well they are convenient perches.

Three thermoregulating Turkey Vultures on a green gateThree thermoregulating Turkey Vultures on a green gate – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 200mm, natural light, not baited

In this image it is easy to see why the vultures perched on the gate by looking at the background. Not much to perch on there except the ground. Sure, there are power poles nearby but a group of vultures can’t perch together on a single pole and Turkey Vultures do seem to like to roost together.

Thermoregulating Turkey Vulture on a green gateThermoregulating Turkey Vulture on a green gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Two days after I photographed the vultures on the red gate I was able to photograph Turkey Vultures on a weathered green gate. Some of the vultures were thermoregulating.

Close up of a Turkey Vulture with its bill openClose up of a Turkey Vulture with its bill open – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Some were close enough for me to take portraits of. I like the open bill shown in this photo plus the direct eye contact. And that white stuff on the birds back… it is poop from other vultures that may have been perched higher than this one.

Turkey Vulture on the corner of a green gateTurkey Vulture on the corner of a green gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 250, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

It was early morning when I photographed these Turkey Vultures on the green gate on a cool morning, I’m certain the sun warmed the vultures up because it felt good to me too.

Turkey Vulture thermoregulating on the corner of a green gateTurkey Vulture thermoregulating on the corner of a green gate – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 250, -1.0 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Mornings can be cool here in northern Utah even into June. It’s cold enough to snow here this morning!

Turkey Vultures have lower body temperatures at night than they do during the day and spreading their wings on sunny mornings helps to raise their body temperature to their daytime levels.

Turkey Vulture preening a single featherTurkey Vulture preening a single feather – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, -1.0 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Morning also seems to be a preferred time for Turkey Vultures to preen and groom their feathers because I see that behavior combined with thermoregulation quite often while I am out in the field.

Normally I prefer natural perches for my subjects but I rather enjoyed photographing these Turkey Vultures and thinking of them as feathered gatekeepers.

Life is good. Birds are good.

Mia

15 Comments

  1. Diane McPherson May 17, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Love them all.

  2. Pepe Forte May 17, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Nature’s version of the Sunshine Cleaning crew. Love the pics; especially the head shot. Thx Mia.

  3. April Olson May 17, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    The thought of turkey vultures sitting on the gates of hell had not entered my mind but now you mentioned it, it stuck. One could only wish for this for certain politicians.

  4. Elephants Child May 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Stunning birds. And a great addition to the gates.

    • Laura Culley May 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      I forgot to mention that I found (and purchased) a plastic vulture skeleton around Halloween. I put it above the cabinets over my stove just for grins and giggles. Mostly nobody notices it–ODD but there it is!

  5. Laura Culley May 17, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Outstanding photos! I just love vultures. They’re cool critters!
    I’m in Arizona now and we had snow in the high country, not that far from me.

    • Diane McPherson May 17, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Laura. Hope all is well with you. We miss you.

      • Laura Culley May 17, 2017 at 11:27 pm

        Hey Diane…can’t believe it but I spent all afternoon replying to you and then inadvertently deleted it. ARGH! Short answer, I’m not typing much at all these days. Without RA meds since October, my fingers/wrists/shoulders and all the other parts aren’t cooperating at all, so I’m mostly in my pain fetal position, fighting the depression that comes with the question, “What if the meds don’t work this time and I’m stuck with this level of pain forever?” Thankfully, the open spaces, seeing mountains close by outside all my windows and the critters are keeping me mostly sane. It’s not helping the pain that I’ve still got a LOT of unpacking/organizing to do! And of course, I keep overdoing it because doing what I CAN do isn’t anywhere near enough.
        Mariah, Jack, Skye and the dogs are well. They love it here, too. There are bunnies, quail and jackrabbits all over the place! Right out the front door even!
        Better send this before I do it again.

      • Laura Culley May 17, 2017 at 11:29 pm

        Hope all’s well with you, too!

        • Diane McPherson May 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm

          May I share this with our other Hawaholics? A simple yes or no will do. I understand about the pain. I thankfully have osteoarthritis. Just as painful but easier to manage right now. I sit most days and the Depression is horrid. Warm enough now to go out doors. Glad you responded . Was wonderful hearing from you. Happy that Mariah and all the other furry and feathered friends are ok too. But I do miss Mariah. Blessings and prayers for you.

          • Laura Culley May 20, 2017 at 10:22 am

            I know a lot of folks are mad at me for being so quiet. I can’t help that. The pain just uses up SO much energy and that with getting my home organized, sorting out medical insurance and other tasks, I just don’t have any energy left. I’m focused on June 1, which is my first visit with a rheumatologist here. SIGH! As for Mariah, she’s still in her hormonal stage, but I’ve come to love her ornery self. Skye is the same–a hormonal PITA. Jack, on the other hand, remains his happy-go-lucky mostly cutie-pie self.

  6. Ruth Byrn May 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I loved these turkey vulture photos! Regarding my interest in these birds, you might like to view this issue of my blog https://enchantedhabitat.com/2017/05/03/pecans-pictographs/

  7. Patty Chadwick May 17, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Interesting info on how they lift their wings to raise their body temp…didn’t know that. Have seen Great Blues raise their wings like that to cool off during some really hot spells…I see them sitting on the spillway of a local reservoir on really hot days in the summer— looking miserable, their wings held out to the side, away from their bodies, drooping strangely, bills open….I can identify with the poor things!

  8. Bob mcpherson May 17, 2017 at 7:04 am

    BeAutiful photos MiA

  9. Liz Cormack May 17, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Snow? And we are sweltering in the Niagara area…..68 at 6am & a promise of 90 later in the day. I find Turkey Vultures so interesting. As well as the Black Vultures. Great shots.

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