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More Wildlife Rumbles: Turkey Vs. Turkey Vulture-Which Will Win?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I don't much like the kind of nature writing that starts out, "Turkey vultures are the Rodney Dangerfields of birds. They get no respect." I mean, I would never write a sentence like that.  To me, it smacks of pandering. It's a too-obvious ploy to ingratiate yourself with the reader. Bleh.

It might not be immediately obvious, but this immature red-shouldered hawk is dissing this vulture by swooping in and perching right next to it. You can't see the vulture's head because it's hanging down in shame.

Turkey vultures are the Rodney Dangerfields of birds.

They get no respect. 

 I do hate that kind of nature writing, but...oops, I just did it. 

Even a wimpy immature red-shouldered hawk thinks he can take a shot at a turkey vulture. Because he can. He's gonna get away with it. What's the vulture going to do? Vomit on him?

 And the big clumsy old vulture just ducks and takes it. I don't get it. I respect turkey vultures.
 I love  turkey vultures.  We need turkey vultures! So much so that every once in awhile when a white-tailed deer walks out in the middle of our meadow and drops dead, I just leave it there for them. And hunker down in the living room with my camera for the next day and a half, which is exactly how long it took seven turkey vultures to clean it up. The poor foxes and coyotes never got a bite!

 So I'm watching these vultures peacefully feeding on October 8, 2014, and I see three wild turkey gobblers (as distinct from turkey vultures) walk up on them from the far reaches of the meadow.  And my first thought is, "Well, this is going to be interesting."

I've never seen an interaction between the two species, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to see one now. I wait it out.

The gobblers just stroll along, doing this cool thing with the little bluestem grass where they fling their naked heads out to the side, grip about halfway up the stem of the grass, then run the stem quickly through their bills and strip the seeds off it all the way to the end.

La la la la la. We're eating grass seeds. Nothing to look at here. Vegetarians, we are.

Vegetarians with an attitude. Militant vegetarians.

But they nonchalantly draw closer and closer to the vultures, who had been happily stuffing themselves with deer liver. And as the turkeys moseyed closer and closer the vultures got their panties in a bunch and retreated to a handy snag (which we put there for them to perch on in the event a deer should drop dead under it).


One vulture flies off, and the other flaps over to a fencepost near our bluebird box. 

Those meddlesome turkeys follow it.

By now it's perfectly clear what's going on. It's another rumble. A wildlife rumble.

When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way...

I absolutely love the aggressive poses of the turkeys. We so bad! 

I don't know why the turkeys would do this. It's not as if they want to eat deer liver.  It seems to me they're intimidating the vultures just because they can. Because it's fun. 

Because they're manturkeys and they need to dump a little testosterone, and the HogWild Gobbler Mud Run isn't until next Saturday. 


I mean, look at this! They're embiggening themselves, standing sideways. The poor vulture feels invaded.

I swear I heard him say Booga Booga as he flapped his wings! It was definitely not Gobble Gobble.

Vulture does a perfect Rodney Dangerfield take toward the camera.

Did I hear a NYAAAAHHHH!? Look at the tail spread, the open bill on that Musketeer!

 Vultures routed, the Meddlesome Turkeys go on their lazy, merry way. 

I flippin' love turkeys. Turkeys and turkey vultures both.

Here endeth the lesson.


OMG, who ever knew that turkeys and vultures could be so entertaining!
Just glad I wasn't sipping my coffee while reading this -- after vultures getting 'their panties in a bunch' and doing a 'perfect Rodney Dangerfield take' for the camera, it would've been all over the keyboard!

In that first picture, I can just imagine what the hawk was saying to the vulture: "Dead things?! You eat dead things?! A real bird would go out and kill his meal."

I think that the turkeys -- and the hawk, too, perhaps -- are actually suffering from low self-esteem, which they are attempting to alleviate by belittling and mocking the vulture. They know quite well that they are safe, as the vulture doesn't kill, but only scavenges. What the vulture needs to do is go all Samuel L. Jackson on their asses, then maybe the other birds would leave him alone.

Embiggening. Gotta remember that one. :)

Posted by Gail Spratley December 2, 2014 at 5:41 AM

Very, very cool.

Wonderful drama there. Love those gobble gobble turkeys all puffed out and acting tough. Poor turkey vulture, though, really gets no respect. Great storytelling!

I loved your turkey vulture turkeys blog! I was half expecting the turkeys to dig into the deer after chasing the vultures off!

You have made my night. I'm another lover of both turkeys (vultures and wild) and as soon as you said rumble, The Jet Song popped into my mind. Of course, now it won't leave, but that's okay. Thanks for this fascinating post!

You are one lucky woman, Julie, to be able to watch such drama! I'm so glad you shared it with us here.

Me, too, about "embiggening"...yours?
I've seen the action precede a bar fight. Time to check the OED or the JZ dictionary? Xom

Posted by Anonymous December 3, 2014 at 4:12 AM

Urban Dictionary: Embiggen

A perfectly cromulent word. To make bigger, to make larger, to make size increase.

Then I had to look up cromulent. Ah ha ha ha ha!

I'm a turkey lover so I loved your story! They are so fun to have around. I started with 1 , now I have 6. They are very curious and follow me every where and very entertaining to watch with all the animals on the farm. They call in the wild turkeys as well.

Hi Julie. I've been reading your journal for awhile now but never commented before. I have much respect for vultures! About three years ago I was leading a girl scout troop and took my girls (and a gaggle of moms and little brothers) to a birds of prey center near us. Cool place! Lots of awesome stuff there. But of everything I saw and heard it was the vultures that stuck out to me the most. She told us about a major problem in India where something that was given to cattle had caused most of the vultures to die off, and she went into great detail about all the serious consequences that had come from it. Really hit home how important they are. Anyow, all of that is to say that while I always liked them before, I really earned respect for them after learning more!

Posted by Heather McC. December 3, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Thanks for popping up, Heather McC. That drug is diclofenac, and I use it (ironically enough) on an arthritic toe. It's used on cattle to ease painful joints (caused by feeding them grain instead of grass) and when vultures eat them, it kills the birds outright. Diclofenac has killed so many vultures in India that it's disrupted the centuries-old practice of "sky burial" practiced by the Parsis. Very sobering. Vultures need all the respect and help we can give them.

maybe turkeys just do not like any big bird-of-prey-like bird looking over their scapulars....the way crows are always picking on red tails...they just want their space

Five turkeys strut up and down my street in the middle of town. They don't like to walk in the snow. And the vultures perch in a circle on top of a water tower by the mall. Waiting for roadkill. Makes me smile every time.

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