Brilliant Bandings and Superb Sightings: A Well-Traveled Turkey Vulture

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One Turkey Vulture’s 3,000 Mile Journey.

Turkey Vulture banded in Saskatchewan and photographed on a fishing boat in Colombia.

Turkey Vulture banded in Saskatchewan and photographed on a fishing boat in Colombia.  (Copyright, All rights reserved Louis Bevier)

The Turkey Vulture pictured with the green, wing-tag E15 was tagged in 2010, in Saskatchewan, Canada. Since then, it has been sighted three times between December 2018 and February 2019. Multiple sightings of a large, wing-tagged bird, such as this vulture are not uncommon. However, this bird was seen all three times in the city of Camarones in the state of La Guajira, Colombia. The distance between its original banding location and re-sighting locations is more than 3300 miles. It is very likely this bird traveled an even greater distance to reach its southern destination as they generally do not cross the open ocean but rather, hug the coast, taking advantage of resources along the migration route.

Although some populations of Turkey Vultures in North America are residents, living in the same area year-round, it is not uncommon for migrant Turkey Vultures to winter in various parts of Central and South America. Although these birds sometimes have a less than favorable reputation, as they tend to gather in large numbers at landfills and dead carcasses, vultures fill an important role in the ecosystem. They are nature’s clean-up crew and aid in the disposal of dead animals, helping prevent the spread of disease as a result of eating large amounts of carrion. This specialized diet does leave them highly susceptible to poisoning, however, because they will inadvertently consume the same poison that killed the deceased animal. Additionally, lead poisoning is a significant problem if carcasses with lead shot are not properly disposed.

While the Bird Banding Lab is known for bands, some federally-marked birds cannot receive these bands. Turkey Vultures are one such example, because to cool themselves in the heat, these birds defecate on their legs. As an alternative to leg bands, a type of color marker called wing-tags are placed on Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures as a primary marker. These markers are used to identify individual birds in scientific studies, because they are large and legible from a distance, which means the bird does not need to be recaptured or handled to confirm its identity. Even though this wing-tag is not a band, you can still report it and the BBL’s other color markers at Color markers, like federal bands, have individual code and color variations associated with each bird. This data is stored in the BBL’s database and is available to the public if requested.