Fall food: Chapter I

Fall is coming, and critters are eating or storing as much as possible against the hard times to come. Two posts on this theme. This first one may not be for everyone!


This Eastern Turkey Vulture was feasting on a grey squirrel roadkill, and flew up into a nearby tree when I drove by. I will spare you a photo of the roadkill, but here is the vulture:

Adult turkey vulture

It is fat and round, just like a turkey, and has a wing span of up to six feet.  It appears to have huge connected nostrils, but in fact what you see are the arches of a large bony superstructure that helps the vulture breathe even when it is feeding; the nostrils proper are tucked inside, well protected and out of sight.

Adult turkey vulture

Turkey vultures are unrelated to the vultures of Africa and Asia, and offer a good example of convergent evolution (After all, every region needs a carrion disposal system). In the Americas, they are highly successful, and are found from Southern Canada down to the southern tip of South America.

They are most definitely not songbirds: they lack a syrinx, so they can only hiss or grunt.

The last part of its scientific name, Catharses aura septentrionalis, puzzled me, because it sounded as though it was related to the number seven (as in Septimus). And indeed it is, by a rather circular route (root?). It turns out to be named after the seven stars which make up the Big Dipper, which of course points at the North Star. and so this Latin word came to mean “of the North”,  which is where this particular vulture lives.



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