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This Morning Outside

by Diane Porter

September 15, 2010
At Birdwatching Dot Com
Fairfield, Iowa

This turkey vulture circled overhead as if curious about me, or so it seemed to me. Notice the missing tail feathers. See below for what's happening here.

Turkey Vulture
Photo copyright 2010 Michael and Diane Porter

Turkey Vulture TailFeathers wear out. They have to be replaced. Most birds replace all their feathers at least once a year. Right now our turkey vultures are hard at work molting their tail feathers.

But these are birds of the sky, and they have to retain their ability to fly. So they replace only a few feathers at a time. This bird has already replaced the outermost tail feathers, which is why the ones see are in good condition. They're still short, though, because they aren't fully grown yet.

The central feathers are gone, pushed out by the new feathers that will replace them. The gap lets us get a good veiw of the feet and taloned toes, which are usually inconspicuous against the tail feathers.

Watching the molting process gives us an little more insight into what is going on with these magnificent fliers when we see turkey vultures in fall.

—Diane Porter

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