Friday, November 27, 2015

Turkey Vultures (Urubus à tête rouge) at Niagara Falls, ON

26 November 2015

     Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura is a hardy species and can be seen locally well into the cold days of winter, with a few individuals even passing the winter here. In recent years it is to be expected that a few will be tallied on Christmas Bird Counts.

     Yesterday on a visit to Niagara Falls several were circling above the Niagara Gorge and along the Niagara River, and we spotted four birds perched at the river's edge.

     Based on anthropomorphic interpretation a Turkey Vulture is not the most appealing species but I have a great deal of respect for it and even have a sweatshirt with a hand painted image of a Turkey Vulture on it. The function they perform is vital to the well-being of the ecosystem and I think that everyone is familiar with the situation in India where vultures are poisoned by feeding on chemical-laced carcasses.  The result is that rotting animals that would have been consumed by vultures are now spreading myriad forms of disease to humans.

     I was happy to have the opportunity to photograph these individuals while they rested for a while.
     In late November and early December Niagara Falls is a magnet for gull watchers with always the chance of extreme rarities showing up. The highest daily total is thirteen species, including Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistagus, an errant bird from Asia.
     Yesterday was not an especially good day for gull observation, but the pictures below give some idea of the concentrations to be found. These views are taken above the falls, just before the water plunges over the precipice which forms the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border. 

     This image gives some sense of the rapids at this stage of the river's journey onward to Lake Ontario.

    We did succeed in locating a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus at the Adam Beck Power Stationa relative rarity here, and if you look carefully you can see the birds, as well as a late Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus.

     Far and away the most numerous species was the diminutive Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia, and you can see them on the water with other larger gulls for size comparison. At the generating station fish are chopped up in the turbines and provide rich feeding for opportunistic gulls.

     The following image shows part of the massive bulk of this hydro-electric generating station.

     A day's outing in the Niagara area is always an agreeable experience and we even saw a Tufted Titmouse Parus bicolor in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Unfortunately we were unable to get a picture of this fairly rare species in this area.
     We chuckled to ourselves, as we observed tourists from every corner of the globe, that we were perhaps the only duo in town whose main interest was not the mighty falls!
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. And there was me thinking I might see you a photo of your good self walking a tightrope, ensconced in in a barrel or maybe even saying hello to a Maid in the Mist? Do not divulge to the whole world the true reason for your visit to this hotbed of tourism. In any case I'm sure it is too cold to sell many ice cream cornets.

    By the way we have yet another weekend of gale force winds and rain courtesy of the dratted Atlantic Ocean with little chance of birding and none whatsoever of a ringing session. Hopefully I will post a review of a new book which will interest a man of your birding stature.

    Please send me a few Bonaparte's in exchange for several thousand Lesser Black-backed gulls.

  2. Hello David, I did not know that vultures lived that far north. Always thougt these kind of birds lived in much warmer climate. Amazing to see so many Gulls gathering together. Are there any fish left because of the chopping up by the turbines.
    Take care,

  3. Por aquí ya se empieza a ver alguna gaviota de Bonaparte, llegan con cuentagotas. A ver si puedo fotografiar alguna. Un bonito reportaje el que nos muestras hoy David, me ha gustado mucho. Un fuerte abrazo desde España.

  4. It does look rough! Gulls certainly do make the most of the opportunities>

  5. Wonderful series of photos David.
    Photo five is my favorite, really great.
    Best regards, Irma

  6. Niagara falls were not your main interest for this visit, but it must be impressive every time, I suppose. Turkey vultures are beautiful. birds. Gulls are also wonderful, but are becoming bolder. They pick an ice-cream out of your hand if they get the chance. All in all, a wonderful series, David. Gr Jan W

    1. The falls are very impressive indeed, Jan - something to gaze at in awe each time one sees them.

  7. I'm sorry, David, but even your great photography can't convince me that the Turkey Vulture is anything but one of the ugliest birds on the planet - especially when sitting rather than flying!

    I'm sitting here on a chilly and damp day, and your images of the water around the falls are making me feel even chillier! I'll probablly have to go and turn the heating up by a couple of degrees!

    Will be in touch again very soon. Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  8. They maybe ugly,but still nice to see,did you do a gull count.

  9. Nice to see the first pictures of a beautiful and impressive bird.
    Never seen the real thing.
    Greetings Tinie

  10. Olá, David!
    Os turistas só olham para as quedas d'água e não percebem a presença de pássaros!

  11. Minha esposa gosta de fotografar as aves que vivem aqui na nossa chácara.

  12. A bird well known for me , inhabits in almost all my country, except where I live. I took many pictures of them in my trips. Couriously in Brasil it's known as urubú, it sound almost as in french. In Argentina we call them jotes (hoh-tehs)

  13. Dearest David,
    Yes, you are so right about Vultures being natures garbage disposal in a way and thus keeping diseases at bay.
    The White-Rumped Vulture you are referring to, got photographed by my husband on this trip to India in 1982:
    Sorry for not building this link in, I'm exhausted and need to get some sleep. Dealing with things like having a Parent in the hospital with a serious condition is not easy from over 8,000 km away.
    We also had an encounter, a very rare one, last Christmas with some Turkey Vultures here at our home.


  14. I see that you are the turkeys in the tree.
    In the Netherlands you see them walk alone on special farms and there are only a few of them. Nice pictures David :-)


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We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.