Autumn Turkey Vulture Portraits – Why I Held My Breath While Taking These Photos

/, Box Elder County, Turkey Vultures, Utah/Autumn Turkey Vulture Portraits – Why I Held My Breath While Taking These Photos

Turkey Vultures are migrating to warmer climates now so these might be the last photos I take of this species of bird this year.

Close up of a Turkey Vulture rousing, Box Elder County, UtahClose up of a Turkey Vulture rousing – Nikon D500, f10, 1/160, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

These autumn Turkey Vulture portraits are among the most difficult images I have ever taken because I was holding my breath and retching while I took them due to the awful odor of a road-killed skunk below the bird.

I have sat for hours in freezing cold, slithered on my belly through mud and sand, been chewed up by biting insects, been so hot that my own sweat has blinded me, photographed birds while up to my waist in salt water and those situations weren’t as hard as the few minutes it took to photograph this one Turkey Vulture because of the dead skunk that was below it.

Close up of an alert Turkey Vulture, Box Elder County, UtahClose up of an alert Turkey Vulture – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The smell of that skunk was so bad that my eyes watered and I held my breath for as long as I could while I tried hard not to gag while taking these Turkey Vulture portraits because that caused my lens to shake. You know it was really bad when I couldn’t wait to get away from a bird. I also hoped for a strong breeze to blow the stench away but it was calm.

And the Turkey Vulture? It cleaned its bill, roused and simply looked around.

Autumn Turkey Vulture portrait, Box Elder County, UtahAutumn Turkey Vulture portrait – Nikon D500, f9, 1/800, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I can’t even look at these photos without remembering how dreadful it smelled while I took these close up portraits. It was just that awful. Despite the horrible smell I am glad I stopped to take these portraits.

What is really odd is that earlier in the morning I had seen a dead skunk on the middle of the road and had looked up a video on YouTube to remember the lyrics. (video is graphic)

Life can stink but it is good.


Turkey Vulture facts and inflammation:

Cathartes aura

  • Turkey vultures are large, dark brown birds with bald, red heads and pale bills with white tips.
  • Turkey Vultures are scavengers and will soar in the air until their keen sense of smell detects dead animals also known as carrion. They will also eat lizards, fish, small mammals and invertebrates.
  • Turkey Vultures are migratory. During the warmer months they can be found in most of areas of the U.S. and extreme southern Canada. They winter in the southern U.S. plus Mexico, Central and South America.
  • Turkey Vultures lay 1 to 3 eggs which hatch in 38 to 41 days. Both sexes incubate and they are monogamous.
  • A group of vultures can be called a “meal”, “vortex”, “wake”, “committee” or “cast” of vultures. Nicknames include “turkey buzzard”, “John Crow” and “carrion crow”.
  • Turkey Vultures can live up to 17 years or more.


  1. Utahbooklover October 9, 2018 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Going to miss one of my favorite flyers as the cold weather sets in. And thanks for the link to a favorite old song too.

  2. Patti October 8, 2018 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    They are remarkable birds, social and goofballs. I love watching them. Thank you for braving le skunk mort to share these gorgeous images!

  3. Marty K October 8, 2018 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU for taking one…er…several for the team. These are amazing shots. He is one gorgeous TV!

  4. Marty Snyder October 8, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    That was one of the most entertaining descriptions you’ve written in a while!! Just a mild bit of skunk smell is sort of pleasant, but I can only imagine what you were hit with!!

  5. Trudy Brooks October 8, 2018 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    What you all have to go thru to get good pictures. As you say “Life is good”,

  6. Elephants Child October 8, 2018 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Before I finished the post I had to look up the words. Definitely stinkin to high heaven.
    Thank you, as always, for the lengths you go to for the perfect image.

  7. Ian Holland October 8, 2018 at 8:02 am - Reply

    I know how you feel! Daphne got skunked and I had to haul her home in the car. It still smells of skunk, not bad enough to have the windows open, but still noticeable. I admire your dedication to birding!

  8. Liz Cormack October 8, 2018 at 7:12 am - Reply

    What dedication to photography! To stick around a gagging smell to take these Turkey Vulture photos. I’m not that brave or dedicated.

  9. Laura October 8, 2018 at 6:31 am - Reply

    The photos of the turkey vultures are great! Worth the smell 😊

  10. Glen Fox October 8, 2018 at 6:24 am - Reply

    Stinking great images Mia!

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