Florida’s Vultures

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

There are two species of vultures found in the state of Florida: the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and the Black Vulture (Coragyps atraus). General characteristics of vultures include a large heavy body, a hunched over posture, and shaggy-looking feathers. Black vultures have sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and white wingtips. Turkey vultures are dark brown with a featherless red head and a pale bill. They usually have lighter flight feathers giving them a two-toned appearance. These two species of vultures often intermingle with one another. Black Vulture’s have a poor sense of smell in comparison to the Turkey Vulture. Consequently, Black Vultures will follow Turkey Vultures to carcasses.

They prefer to eat “freshly” dead carrion, but they will also feed on carcasses that are already decaying. Turkey Vultures are much more gracious in their feasting and will wait until an animal passes away to begin cleaning up the mess. Black Vultures, however, have less patience. Prey is found through their sense of smell; in some cases, it has been recorded that certain species of vultures can smell carrion from over a mile away. Vultures lack strength in their feet and, usually, will consume carrion where it is found. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including roadsides, suburbs, farm fields, countryside, landfills, trash heaps, and construction sites.

Vultures are devoted parents and display extreme intelligence. They will often bring food back for their relatives. Mother vultures feed their young even months after they have fledged the nest. Black vultures have an average lifespan of ten years, while turkey vultures can live up to 16 years. Although often misunderstood, vultures have crucial ecological importance which benefits the health of humans and the environment. Vultures are part of nature’s ‘clean up crew’. They rid the landscape of deteriorating carcasses which could spread disease to our waterways, the soil where we grow food, or other animals. Their stomachs have strong enzymes elimintating the potential transfer of dangerous toxins helping to prevent diseases from spreading without any harm to themselves. Since vultures are usually plunging their heads into dead carcasses, their heads are bald for cleanliness purposes.

A Turkey Vulture (#21-6182) was recently admitted to CROW after being found in Fort Myers unable to fly. Upon initial examination, veterinarians suspect the patient could have a possible systemic or infectious disease resulting in neurological issues. The cause of this is currently unknown; however, it is often found that larger birds, especially those who prey on roadkill and carcasses, are at a high risk of poisoning from rodenticides or lead. This issue has been widespread across the country. The victims include birds, mammals, and reptiles ranging from birds of prey, bobcats, skunks, yellow rat snakes to vultures and other scavengers.

Radiographs of Turkey Vulture patient (#21-6182) revealed a foreign metal object in the stomach. The vulture will continue to be closely monitored under supportive care as its mental activity improves. CROW has admitted more than 30 turkey and black vultures this year with wing fractures, rodenticide poisoning, neurological issues, and lead poisoning.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (12/10-12/17):
There were 22 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including a common tern, a merlin, three eastern cottontails, two brown pelicans, six double-crested cormorants, a turkey vulture, two eastern gray squirrels, a red-shouldered hawk, fish crow, a sandwich tern, and two gopher tortoises. Recent releases include a white ibis, a Florida box turtle, a Florida softshell turtle, and a Florida red-bellied Cooter! Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to http://www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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