​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 10: Turkey Vultures  
15 June 2018
These much-maligned icons of the American West are only part-time residents of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, but they fill a critical ecological niche.

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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
LES>> Good morning, Gary. What’s going on?

GARY>> Good morning, Les! You have your vulture hat with you today?

LES>> I do. It’s right here.

GARY>> All right! Today’s topic is Turkey Vultures, also known as buzzards or turkey buzzards.

LES>> Ah! Something that used to hang out at Makoshika State Park. The turkey buzzards, yes?

GARY>> Okay. I didn’t know that one. They’re usually pretty easy to spot. If you see one, most of the big birds of prey, like the eagles, will hold their wings out straight as they’re flying, while the vultures will keep their wingtips up in the shape of a V — “V” for “Vulture” — if you see one coming toward you or away from you. You can also look for those big white patches underneath the wings. The wing tips and the trailing edges are white, which they are not with the eagles. They are big birds. They can have a six foot wingspan.

LES>> They’ll stay up in the air quite a while.

GARY>> And they don’t flap very often. They just catch the thermals and hang out up there. Since you usually just see one in any given area of the sky, you think of them as being solitary, but they’ll actually roost in big groups at night. They’re very gregarious birds. They like dead trees without leaves, but they also like to hang out on artificial structures that don’t have leaves, like —

LES>> — power lines, I’m sure.

GARY>> Power lines, and maybe radio broadcast towers?

LES>> Ah, I see!

GARY>> So you can see 20, 30, sometimes 50 of them sitting in one big dead tree or a big group of them on a cellphone tower.
They’re not the world’s most popular bird. They’re really not. Because they can be kind of disgusting. You know how they keep themselves cool?

LES>> I ... do I want to know?

GARY>> Yeah, they pee on their legs, so the evaporating liquid will cool them down. They’re awkward and ungainly on the ground, and they don’t have great defenses against predators, so if a predator like a fox or something does catch one when it’s on the ground, it has this horrid, rancid, acid-filled vomit that it will throw up all over the predator that’s trying to get at it.

They’re really cool migrating birds as well. The ones in the southern U.S. live there all year. The ones that live up here leapfrog over those as they go down to spend their winters in Mexico.

LES>> Okay. Good place to spend winters, I guess.

GARY>> It is, indeed. It’s good for them.

LES>> Well, Gary, always interesting. You learn something — whether you want to know it or not — from you as the Education Director for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.

GARY>> Always the fun facts!

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes, YellowstoneEcosystem.com, and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain, where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!    

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