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Turkey vultures get their day

Posted by: Greg Brandell, Animal Care
Photos by: Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo

We here at Woodland Park Zoo recognize and appreciate that all species of animals are significant and necessary within native ecosystems. Now, having said that, let’s be honest: sometimes some get a bit more recognition than others. Sometimes an animal has a dirty but essential job that needs doing. Take for example the noble turkey vulture, a species which can even be found right here in Washington.

We call them turkey vultures, but their scientific name hints at their role in an ecosystem; they are Cathartes aura, the Cleansing Wind. They are the clean-up crew, the ones that help make sure the rest of the ecosystem is nice and clean. And in this case, clean means free of dead and rotting meat, which helps protect us and other animals from harmful diseases and illness. Turkey vultures have amazing noses and can use smell alone to locate a carcass from over a mile away! They survive by eating what would make most of us decide to pass on our lunches if we were able to so much as sniff their meals.

So in honor of one of nature’s gastronomical gladiators please join us Saturday, September 5th when we will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day at the zoo. Learn more about not just turkey vultures but their cousins around the globe during our daily flight programs. Younger explorers can see just how researchers band, weigh and track these amazing animals and their more endangered relatives. They'll get to try their hand at being a bit of a vulture themselves, minus the diet of course. There will even be works of art created by the zoo’s own turkey vulture, Modoc.

Let’s shine the spotlight on these amazing creatures, their lives and their place within our environment.

Fine art by Modoc himself!