On September 29 I received an email from Brent Angelo of Vancouver, Washington. Last winter I was in touch with Brent following a Turkey Vulture sighting that he had made of one of our wing-tagged birds. This time around Brent shared his sightings of Turkey Vultures on migration, from his backyard no less!
Quoting Brent’s email: Around 10:30am, I noticed a Vulture going by in the East… With this one, I saw a few behind it and they were heading south. I was like cool. Then another one…then another one…all of sudden from the North, there was a huge group flying this way. They all had similar looks, soaring south, then at a certain point they would ride a thermal, and then there was almost a tornado of flying vultures. It was a trip. It went off and on for like 2 hours. It was not easy to count, but I would get pictures of 20-25 in a single shot. There were onesies, twosies at times and then another big group.
Brent posted these photos and more on the website eBird. In the post he reported that he saw 125 Turkey Vultures in total over the time he was watching and taking photos.
Two days after his initial observations, on October 2, Brent wrote again. He indicated that he’d seen another bunch of Turkey Vultures passing overhead, this time 50 in the span of half an hour.
Brent’s observations and those of many others have shown that Turkey Vultures migrate together, if not initially certainly as they make their way south. Birds of a feather flock together, taking advantage of themal updrafts to soar with little effort along the way. Departing birds don’t all leave on the same date. The passage of Turkey Vultures on migration takes weeks. And individual bird departure dates vary from year to year.
Cases in Point: Turkey Vultures Coy and Grayland. Coastal Rptors fitted these two with transmitters in 2018 in collaboration with the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. As of October 3, 2023, Coy has initiated migration but Grayland has not. The screenshots below from the app Animal Tracker tell the story.
To learn more about Pacific Northwest Turkey Vulture movement including wintering areas (hint, think sombrero!), see Turkey Vulture Tracking.