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Turkey Vulture Bird Identification
by Mike Heine
Soaring Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture Q: What kind of birds are these? There were 7 soaring above me for close to 20 minutes. They appeared to be playing in the wind being pushed up from our little holler. A good 3 ft span. After they drifted off to the southwest the songbirds came back. I had not noticed it was quiet until they disturbed some crows down the draw. I live on the south side of Louisville, KY. For a time I think they were showing off. Most wondrous thing to see. Thank you. Mike Heine, Louisville, KY
A: From what we can see from the photo, it looks like a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). They are often seen soaring together in large flocks. Turkey Vultures are large birds with a wing span between 5-6 feet.
Using thermal updrafts, or rising columns of air, they soar across the sky looking for carrion to feed upon as these birds are scavengers. When soaring, they often will form a "V" shape with their wings and kind of teeter-totter back and forth in the wind. When you see a group of vultures rising up in the thermals to gain altitude, this is called a kettle.
As for the songbirds becoming quiet, this is an instinctual reaction to large soaring birds from above because they cannot distinguish between a bird of prey silhouette vs a vulture silhouette.