May I introduce (the much maligned…) Turkey Vulture??
This magnificent harbinger of Spring doesn’t often get the respect it deserves. Arriving in spring in many areas, including the beautiful Umpqua Watershed, after spending the winter in Baja Mexico and California, the Turkey Vulture (TV) gets its name from the fact that the head is hairless and red, just like a turkey. But like all vultures, this bald look is an adaption to their niche in the environment- eating carrion without getting pieces stuck on their head or providing cover for other parasites in the carcass. 

These vastly underpaid sanitation engineers of nature provide an invaluable service as they feed on dead carcasses – any carcass – even those that have deadly pathogens that would make other animals sick. The extreme acidity of their stomach kills most bacteria and viruses, including rabies. When a TV eats an animal that had rabies, distemper or botulism, the disease dies in the vultures stomach and can no longer infect any people or animals.
‘These disgusting birds, with their bald, scarlet heads, formed to revel in putridity’ was Darwin’s assessment… but that beautiful red head attracts mates, and helps cool them down. Their ‘disgusting’ characteristics have their purpose too – surprisingly accurate projectile vomiting is the only defense this timid bird has. And who hasn’t enjoyed the cooling affect of urinating on your own legs? Added benefit there, too, of killing bacteria and parasites. On the other hand, they enjoy water, spend 2-3 hours a day grooming, and love to sun bathe, spreading out their wings to absorb vitamin D, thermoregulate, and to dry off.
TV have excellent daytime eyesight, and a keen sense of smell, rare in the bird world. Having no vocal organs, they can only hiss and grunt. They do not kill prey and are in fact quite timid, hopping away in fright at the smallest twitch of a not quite dead target.
The Cherokee People of North America called these amazing animals ‘Peace Eagles’, as they do not kill but rather feed on animals already dead. Imagine the state of our earth without these magnificent birds. ❤️