Ruddy Turnstone in the sand

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Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) female – St. Pete Beach, FL, USA


Spotted in the morning just above the high tide line before all the beach-goers set up camp. There are up to an estimated 100,000 Ruddy Turnstones in America alone. This shorebird is found in 6/7 continents and will migrate great distances between continents to breed and winter.

American Black Vultures on Marsh Trail

American Black Vultures are part of a family of birds called the New-world Vultures (Cathartidae). These birds are “new-world” because they all live in the Western Hemisphere. People living in the western United States are most likely familiar with Turkey Vultures, another of the family’s members. American Black and Turkey Vultures are close relatives of condors plus a few other South American vultures.

The rest of the vultures (those animated in Disney movies) live in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The vultures on Marsh Trail stood out to me for their indifference to my presence. At one point, Johanna was walking down the trail only two feet behind one of the vultures as it meandered along in front of her. Obviously we pretended to leash the vulture and take it for a walk. It didn’t seem to mind.

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American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) – Marsh Trail, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, FL

If you think this bird looks large, you’re correct. Check out my 50th blog post for a brief glimpse at a group of vultures feeding on a boar carcass. The wingspan of this vulture can reach over five feet long (160 cm)! Surprisingly, the bird’s mass maxes out at just over 4 pounds (1,940 g).

Here’s a portrait of one such beast.

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American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) – Marsh Trail, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, FL

The one thing that we all know about vultures is that they have a propensity for scavenging. The term “vulture” has even become an anthropomorphic adjective for the mooch, gold-digger or beggar. Rather than deducting character points from this creature for taking shortcuts, I’d like to brag on his bravado.

Vultures eat pretty much everything (insects, fish, other birds’ eggs, large animal carcasses). Obviously this presents them with more opportunities for food. American Black Vultures specialize in animal muscle and viscera and get this, they locate all of their food without a sense of smell. Even more impressive, their food of choice is older carcasses that other species of vultures have already finished eating from. Pretty rugged.

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American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) – Marsh Trail, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, FL

They can hunt also. They kill nestling birds and baby turtles. They aren’t great fishermen but they manage.

The most interesting thing about these vultures is their social hierarchy. They maintain strict foraging roles wherein there are established rules for activities like drinking and bathing.

Join me Wednesday for Willets!