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Vultures kind of like hanging around towns
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Vultures kind of like hanging around towns

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Couch vultures

Don’t be surprised if you look up while at the shopping mall and see a large black bird. It turns out that vultures don’t mind being around humans and towns, and in some cases the birds even benefit.

A recent University of Georgia study tracked vultures to see how they behaved around towns. It turns out black vultures and their cousin the turkey vulture kind of like city life for a couple of reasons.

Because they are big birds, vultures have a hard time taking off from the ground. So launching off tall buildings they to fly is helpful. Some of the birds don’t mind raiding garbage cans for food. Their menu also includes roadkill, animals struck and killed along highways.

Turkey vultures have a very good sense of smell, their way of finding dead things to eat. Black vultures will follow turkey vultures to find a meal.

You won’t see black vultures in Montana, they live on the East Coast. But turkey vultures are commonly seen here, often gliding high above in lazy circles. That’s another reason vultures like towns. When roads and buildings heat up the warm air rising creates updrafts, called thermals, the vultures use to cruise.

You may recognize turkey vultures by their large wingspans – up to 6 feet wide – that look like a shallow V when viewed head on. They also have red featherless heads as adults, while young turkey vultures have black heads.

Turkey vultures are summer residents only, traveling south when the weather turns colder.

Black vultures and their relatives live only in North and South America, according to the All About Birds website. However, we know that 34 million years ago they also lived in Europe, according to fossils found there.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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