Saturday, March 5, 2011

When is a Turkey Vulture not a Turkey Vulture?

On our day off we went birding in Santa Ana. It seems funny to some people that, since we lead bird walks at Santa Ana, we would go there on our days off and bird. But, there is a big difference in leading others and finding birds for others to see. When it’s just Mark and me we can take all the time we want and we’re not trying to get several people up to the spotting scope before the bird flies away.

So, off to Santa Ana we went. We walked a little bit different route than we do on the official bird walks. We walked all the way around Willow Lakes then down to Pintail Lakes. At Pintail Lakes there is a trail to the left that leads back to the visitor center. The trail has been flooded the whole time we have been here but the water has started receding a bit and we were able to walk down the trail about 100 yards. We walked to where the trail was flooded and were looking across the ponds when this ‘Turkey Vulture’ flew by. It took a few seconds for the mind to register that this ‘Turkey Vulture’ has a yellow bill and yellow legs and beautiful banding on its tail.

The answer to the question “When is a Turkey Vulture not a Turkey Vulture”?

When it’s a Zone-tailed Hawk!

Juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk

The Zone-tail looks remarkably like a Turkey Vulture. It may be overlooked even by birders who are searching for it. This close resemblance may fool other creatures as well. Small animals learn to ignore the abundant and harmless Turkey Vultures, and they may fail to notice an approaching Zone-tailed Hawk until it is too late.

They eat mostly lizards, mammals, and birds. In some areas they specialize on certain large lizards, such as spiny lizards or collard lizards. In other areas, birds are the main items in their diet.

In hunting, it soars and circles like a Vulture. When it spots prey, it continues to circle as before, but gradually moves off to the side and lower. As soon as it’s screened from the prey animal by cover, the hawk turns and makes a direct, powerful attack, taking the prey by surprise. Sometimes it makes steeper direct dives without this kind of stealthy approach.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Turkey Vulture

Both Turkey Vultures and Zone-tailed Hawks fly with a pronounced dihedral (the upward angle of the wings).

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