Within the last 30 years Turkey Vultures have been become increasingly common here in Saskatchewan. Normally this species nests in natural caves. You can imagine how many natural caves there are in the prairies.... Today, Turkey Vultures are learning and adapting to fit into the modern day prairie ecosystem. Instead of only using natural caves they are now using old abandoned buildings to nest in, like this one.
Today there are around 100 known Turkey Vulture nest sites in the province, and the person studying these birds is Dr. Stuart Houston, along with his crew: Marten Stoffel, Brent Tarry and Mike Bloom. They are tagging the birds, or placing a cattle-ear-tag-like tag on the nestlings wing so they can track these young birds. They can clip the tag to the birds wing without drawing any blood. The tag is (hopefully) permanent and can be read with binoculars as the bird is perched or flying over.
You might ask why can't you simply band the birds just like we do other birds. Vultures are unique in that to cool themselves they defecate down their legs. Mixed with an aluminum band this creates a build up of cement like substance that can cause lesions on the leg as well as deformities. For this reason, banders are not allowed to place a band on a Turkey Vulture, and patagial tags are the best thing instead. They are flexible and do not cause any problems for the bird as far as we know.
The question behind this tagging program is to try and discover how old Turkey Vultures are when they begin to breed. There is only one record of a Turkey Vulture of known age breeding at 11 years of age, but it is speculated that the birds may start breeding around 6 or 7 years of age. But again this is the question this project is trying to answer.
It is not believed the increase of Vultures in Saskatchewan has any negative effects on the environment. The birds eat dead animals and therefore are great for cleaning up the countryside of dead rotting meat. They are fantastic scavengers!
So make sure you watch for those huge black birds as they soar over the prairies (they have nearly a 6 foot wingspan!) and of course watch for those wing tags!!!!