Watch Out For Those Turkey Vultures

A couple of years ago I heard about a tagging program by Nature Saskatchewan, a group observing, documenting and protecting the province’s natural diversity. They wanted to learn more about the life and habits of turkey vultures. When I recently discovered two baby buzzards in an old decrepit granary scheduled for demolition, I knew I had to report this.

After trying several government offices, I finally located Dr. C. Stuart Houston at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, who sent someone out in August 2010, to tag them.

It was such a fascinating experience that I paid more attention when I was out and about and found three nests each with two fledglings. Once again I contacted Dr. Houston and Lorne Scott (associated with the tagging program) and Jarred Clark (park naturalist for Wascana Centre Authority in Regina, birdwatcher and researcher) came out.

First the fledglings were captured and then were put into plastic tubes to keep them from flapping away or biting. The right wing was disinfected then a hole punched through the skin on the top edge of the wing and a tag inserted — similar to having an ear pierced. A feather sample was taken, measurements and location carefully recorded, and the birds were released.

Be sure to watch for those huge black birds as they soar over the Prairies (they have nearly a six-foot wingspan) and of course watch for the wing tags.

If you find a banded bird report it to: www.reportband.gov.

For interesting facts about these amazing birds check out: http://bandinginsask. blogspot. com/2007/09/turkey-vulture-tagging. html.

DorothyRienkswritesfromBroadview, Saskatchewan

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Turkey Vulture Info:

The turkey vulture population in Saskatchewan has increased as the number of abandoned farmsteads has increased. This could be due to the fact that nests are safer in buildings from predators such as raccoons.

From Dr. Houston: “Update on TUVU tagging as of August 12, 2010. With the ‘first round’ of tagging pretty well complete, the 2010 total is a record 133 vulture nestlings tagged in 76 nests, just topping last year’s final total of 132 in 78 nests. There are still a few late nests to visit.”

Turkey vultures cannot be simply banded like other birds. They are unique in that to cool themselves they defecate down their legs. Mixed with an aluminum band this creates a buildup of cement-like substance that can cause lesions on the leg as well as deformities

Turkey vultures are fantastic scavengers. They eat dead animals and therefore are great for cleaning up the countryside of dead, rotting meat, thus preventing the spread of some diseases.

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