The Ugliest Bird in Wyoming!

June 08, 2019

     In this central part of the Wind River Canyon where I live, here in central Wyoming, is a unique ecosystem in many different facets.  It's the only part of the canyon that is open and inhabited by people, and this creates certain unusual wildlife stories.  For instance, vultures tend to inhabit this area and can be seen on a daily basis.  Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are Mother Nature's garbage disposal and do a very good job of cleaning up things uneatable to anyone else.  They have an uncanny ability to find dead things; they cannot kill because their feet are more like that of a chicken than a raptor.

     Someone in the 18th century thought that turkey vultures looked like a lot like wild turkeys. A Turkey Vulture's Wingspan in WyomingTurkey Vulture WingspanTurkey Vulture wingspan imaged in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming.   Imagine their surprise at Thanksgiving!  These wild birds aren't just huge (wingspans of six feet!) but could be the definition of butt-ugly.  You can see them most summer days riding the thermals here in the Wind River Canyon.  They are always watching each other's back; just in case the owner of the dead thing they're eating comes back!  At night they lower their body temperature by about six degrees Celsius, so in the morning you may be lucky enough to see them warming up with wings spread wide. 

     Something fascinating I learned while researching this bird species; they live to be older than you think.  Two captive turkey vultures, as of 2015, were over 40 years old!  In the wild they probably cannot survive this long; lead poisoning from bullets-in-the-dead are a problem identified by Audubon. 

     A little over-a-week ago, I got to spend some quality time photographing, in high-definition, a vulture from a perfect blind; my open kitchen door!  I set up my favorite wildlife lens, the Tamron SP 150-600mm G2, on my old Giottos tripod.  I had the time to change settings and try different shots as the vulture did all sorts of vulture things.

     This first image I thought looked like the vulture was posing for a shot.  The lens was set to 600mm and was manually focused; F6.3, ISO 500. Wyoming Turkey Vulture ImageTurkey Vulture in the Wind River CanyonTurkey Vulture posing in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming.      The other vulture image in this week's Wind River Canyon Blog I thought was more than fun.  He'd been cleaning himself after a meal and was "airing" out his flight-feathers; shaking things off as it were.  I swear I heard him say, "Look, I'm an airplane!"  Shot @ 500mm @ 1/500th of a second. Wyoming Turkey Vulture ImageTurkey Vulture, Wind River CanyonTurkey Vulture in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming.      You've heard the saying, haven't you?  "He's so ugly, he's cute."  Like the dog that looks like it's melting?  I'm sorry, but, ugly is ugly; and this bird qualifies easily.  But all his parts serve a very specific purpose----just look at that beak!  Clean and white, just like he'd used that new teeth whitener.  That head of his goes into places that I wouldn't want to stick my hand!!  His stomach processes deadly, yukky stuff with spellings I cannot even pronounce correctly.  

     To be able to soar the Wind River Canyon on warm summer breezes with wings bigger than I am would be....well, impossible, but what fun to imagine such a flight!

     For many more wildlife images from the Wind River Canyon, including hummingbirds and Bighorn Sheep, visit safely my  All content is produced by Michael John Balog and is copyright protected and shall not be reproduced without permission.

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