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At the WNC Nature Center, November brings thoughts of a different kind of "turkey"

November usually reminds us of turkeys, but at the WNC Nature Center, we think of turkey vultures. Our resident turkey vulture, Buzz, came to the center 30 years ago, making him one of our oldest residents. He had been found on the side of a road with a wing injury, most likely a result of a run-in with a car. His injury didn’t heal properly, and he couldn’t fly, which meant he couldn’t survive on his own in the wild. Instead, he came to the center, where he now lives in a specially designed habitat that allows him to live comfortably while being an ambassador for his species.

Turkey vultures are often underappreciated because of their “ugly” appearance and the dirty job that they do in nature. To vultures, bald is beautiful. Their bald heads help keep them clean while they eat decomposing animals, also known as carrion. Could you imagine eating a bowl of spaghetti with nothing but your mouth? If you had no hair – or in the vultures’ case, head feathers –it would be a much easier clean up!  

To find their food, turkey vultures must have an incredible sense of smell. This is highly unusual, as most birds have no sense of smell at all. In a way, vultures have a bird superpower. Another adaptation that vultures have that most people find repulsive is they can regurgitate their food to ward off predators. If they are cornered by another animal, the turkey vulture can throw up all of the carrion it just ate right onto the predator. This nasty distraction gives the vulture a chance to flee.

The next time you can visit the WNC Nature Center, be sure to look up in Buzz’s habitat.  He enjoys posing with his wings straight out to warm himself in the sun. Once you spot him, thank him and his wild cousins for the important job they do in the wild as nature’s cleanup crew.

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