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“Appreciating Vultures” at the Wildlife Park in September

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on August 31, 2017

September is Vulture Awareness and Appreciation Month at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Learn about New World and Old World Vultures, the key role they play in the environment, and the plight they face in many countries.

September’s displays in the Visitor Center and Discovery Center will focus attention on Florida’s two New World vultures:  the Black vulture and the Turkey vulture. There are seven New World vultures in all, and fifteen species of Old World vultures.  A special program on vultures is planned for September 21, 2017.

The park is home to three unreleasable vultures. “Vera” and “Abani” are Turkey vultures, and “Pugsley” is a Black vulture. These three birds are currently being kept in a back holding area of the wildlife department; but the park is planning soon to add a new vulture exhibit. Visitors will get the opportunity to meet the three resident vultures and enjoy their comical antics. Interpretive material will be available to learn more on this vital, yet misunderstood species.

A family of Black vultures in the Ellie Schiller Homoasassa Springs Wildlife State Park open aviary. Image courtesy of Susan Strawbridge.

The vultures you see in the park are family groups of Black vultures, while Turkey vultures can often be seen soaring high above the park. Generations upon generations use the same area to call home. Some areas are known to be used for 100 years or more by families. Most vulture species mate for life, and are very loyal to their family members. The young are sometimes fed for up to eight months after they have left the nest.

Learn about New World and Old World Vultures

Andrea Junkunc with Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Andrea will be presenting a program on New and Old World vultures Sept. 21.

Thursday, September 21 at 1:00 pm, Andrea Junkunc, a Park Services Specialist and wildlife interpreter at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will present a fascinating program on Vultures. The program will be in the Magnolia Room of the Visitor Center located on US 19.

Her presentation will consist of an explanation of the many hats that vultures wear and the role vultures play in the environment as nature’s clean-up crew.

Many countries are seeing problems resulting from the decline in vulture populations. The decline is the result of drugs being introduced into livestock that in turn poison the vultures.

A vulture’s strong stomach acids can destroy harmful bacteria including Cholera and Anthrax therefore decreasing the spread of disease. In the absence of vultures, feral dogs and rats take the vultures’ place as the clean-up crews. Unfortunately, the bacteria and diseases live on within the dogs and rats. As a result these diseases are spread to other species including humans.

The Black Vulture

Vultures are nature’s clean-up crew. Black vulture image courtesy of Joe Dube.

Black vultures are a large but compact raptor. The tail is very short and rounded. They have small, greyish-black, wrinkled, bare heads with narrow but strongly hooked bills. They are a sooty black except for white patches on the underside of their wingtips which is difficult to see in bright light or at a distance. The bare skin of the head is also black.

The Black vulture is a very social bird. During the day, Black vultures soar in flocks, often along with Turkey vultures and hawks. Their flight style is distinctive with strong wingbeats followed by short glides. They hold their broad, rounded wings flat and angled slightly forward. This gives them a bat-like appearance when in flight. Watch for them soaring high up in thermals on warm days and along highway edges eating roadkill, as well as picking through dumpsters.

Black vultures are social, often perching in groups.

Favorite roosting places include trees and transmission towers where they wait through early morning for the air to warm and for thermals to develop. They prefer open areas within forested landscapes for habitat. Here they nest and roost in wooded areas from which they can soar above the open areas in search of food. They have increased their range to the North in recent decades.

The Turkey Vulture

Turkey vultures are large dark birds with long, broad wings. They are bigger than most other raptors except eagles and condors. Their long wings have long “fingers” at their wingtips and their long tails extend past their toe tips in flight. Turkey vultures fly with their wings slightly raised, making a “V” shape silhouette.

While Turkey vultures may appear mostly black from a distance they are actually a dark brown up close with a featherless red head and a pale bill.  The undersides of their flight feathers are paler, giving them a two-toned appearance.

Turkey vultures in flight are somewhat unsteady.

In flight, while Turkey vultures are majestic, they are somewhat unsteady flyers. Their characteristic teetering flight results from fewer wingbeats. You’ll find them gliding low to the ground, sniffing for carrion or riding the thermals for higher vantage points. While they often soar in small groups they tend to roost in larger groups. Like the Black vultures, they can also be seen along roadsides, suburbs, farm fields and on the ground huddled around roadkill or dumpsters. The Turkey vulture has a keen sense of smell and is the consummate scavenger, cleaning up the countryside.

Wildlife Puppeteers to perform Sept. 16

Friends’ Volunteers – The Wildlife Puppeteers who do Puppet plays her in the park and outside the park in schools, libraries and clubs. (L to R) Vicky Iozzia, Judy Hemer, Renate Wilms-Rovin and Bruce Mann. Photo by Susan Strawbridge

The first performance of the Wildlife Puppeteers new puppet play entitled “Night at the Wildlife Park,” will be presented on Saturday, September 16, 2017, starting at 2:00 pm in the Florida Room of the Visitor Center located on US 19. This play is about an imaginary story of what the animals at the Wildlife Park do after the park closes. Get ready to party, sing, and dance with the animals, and (Spoiler Alert!) you will also see animals who do not live at the park! Watch your favorite animals and enjoy! There is no charge to attend the puppet play.

National Public Lands Day

On Saturday, September 30, 2017, the park will be celebrating National Public Lands Day.

On Saturday, September 30, 2017, the park will be celebrating National Public Lands Day. Volunteers will have interpretive carts out along the Wildlife Walk with additional information and hands-on items about many of the park’s animals.

As you can see, we have a lot planned for September and encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the importance of preserving Florida’s wildlife including our Black and Turkey vultures.  For more information or to register, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.