Turkey Vultures, Osprey Newsmakers
Inside the Outdoors, May 31
, 2013

It’s often said, one can learn a lot by listening. Such was the case when I was riding by cab recently and the driver shared some outdoor goings on in as much as he knew that I write a column on the various related subjects for The Latrobe Bulletin. It’s gotten to be a tradition over the years whereby both men and women have told me about their experiences encountering wildlife no matter where they go.

Last year, I wrote a story about one such individual telling me about her turkeys encounter while trying to photograph them after delivering a rider to a destination. Recently, a gent stated he had seen a whole flock of white seagulls at the mall and proceeded to tell me the story about that. My latest report came from a gentleman who not only told me about the numerous deer he had to stop for, but also turkey vultures as well. He described them as “big, brown balls sitting in the road.” His passenger wasn’t sure of the name, but heard that they were called turkey vultures, but wasn’t sure if that was slang.

And so today, I thought I’d talk about two birds that were recent newsmakers, one that was sighted and talked about visually, and the other, the osprey, that was pictured in this tabloid carting off a fish. And so I begin…

According to allaboutbirds.org, a bird of prey or raptors, “Turkey vultures are large, dark birds with long, broad wings. When soaring, they hold their wings slightly raised, making a “V” when seen head-on.”

Just like the cab driver said, “Up close they are dark brown with a featherless red head and pale bill. While most of their body and forewing are dark, the undersides of the flight feather are paler, giving a two-toned appearance.”

They may be seen on roadside, farm fields, or looking for food at such sources as landfills, trash heaps or construction sites.

“The turkey vulture,” the Vulture Society states, “contrary to popular belief, does not feed strictly on carrion (though carrion forms the bulk of its calories). This species has been recorded as eating a wide variety of food, including wild and domestic carrion, stranded mussels, shrimp, grasshoppers, mayflies washed onto shore, rotten pumpkins, palm fruit, grapes, juniper berries, and feces of coyote.”

Finally, here are some facts of interest. “The turkey vulture is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and it is illegal to kill this species in the United States. It is one of the only birds in North American with a highly developed sense of smell. It relies on its keen eyesight and powerful nose to search for food.”

The osprey is also protected under the same Act. A matter of fact, all migratory birds fall under it.

In discussing this species, the Pennsylvania Game Commission states, “Ospreys are large, striking, fish-eating birds of prey most often seen around water. They exceed 24 inches in length and sport wingspans approaching six feet. Also referred to as ‘fish hawks,’ ospreys are dark brown above, bright white below, with some brown streaking on the breast. Key identification characteristics are the prominent dark eye stripes, black patches at the crooks of bent wings, and a characteristic silhouette. Unlike eagles, ospreys often hover over open water while fishing, thus making this large raptor easily identifiable from a distance.”

While boating on area lakes, I have often seen these “thieves” virtually steal the fish I should be catching. I work so hard trying for one and they leisurely pounce on one effortlessly, that a part of me becomes so jealous with envy.

Preying exclusively on fish, “Ospreys prefer lakes, ponds, rivers and marshes bordered by trees. They require open water containing adequate fishing opportunities,” the PGC said.

Pam McQuistian, Keystone State Park environmental education specialist, recently stated that she, too, has seen a number of ospreys above the lake. In as much as at one time there were historically in the area, Pennsylvania had very few of them. “Between 1980 and 1996,” the PGC stated, “265 osprey – obtained as nestlings from Chesapeake Bay nests – were released in the Commonwealth. The reintroductions occurred in three geographic areas: the Poconos, Tioga County reservoirs and Moraine State Park (Butler County). Since then, the populations have grown significantly.

- Paul J. Volkmann
Contact me by email

To buy my book, Off the Wall Favorites, call me at 724-539-8850.