CHICO – Bidwell Park is seeing an abundance of more than a few birds lately. As residents of the neighborhood have pointed out, a surprising amount of Turkey Vulture spends time in the park.
Red-headed vultures can usually be seen in the upper part of the park hunting and catching thermal currents (updraft) that sweep the canyon walls, but the excessive number of birds are starting to catch the eye.
On Thursday, near the intersection of Manzanita and Vallombrosa avenues, vultures could be seen in large groups, hovering above the treeline and filling the branches with dead trees.
Joggers and park-goers near the Manzanita Bridge would occasionally stop to gaze up at the birds, watching them take off from their perch above the ground.
Large birds can have wingspan of up to 72 inches, which helps them soar rather than having to flap their wings, once they catch the wind currents.
Roger Lederer, a local bird expert and retired Chico State professor of biological sciences, said the highest population in the area, and in particular in Bidwell Park, is due to the timing of migration.
“The vultures from the northern regions are moving south to our region and other regions in the south. They tend to congregate at this time of year like many other birds, ”Lederer wrote in an email Friday. “Grouping provides protection as well as efficient food search because there are more pairs of eyes.”
Lederer wrote that vulture groups don’t have a special number, adding that they can range from a group of six to dozens at a time. He added that if you’re looking to see a lot of them, now is the time.
“When you see them spinning over your head as if they are agitated, it’s called a ‘kettle’. This is the typical time of year to see so much, ”Lederer wrote. “They are scavengers and only eat dead or dying animals, thus cleaning up the environment.”
Lederer wrote that in addition to having a strong stomach acid to digest the dead animals they feast on and being able to smell dead animals, the vulture also defecates on its own feet to kill bacteria. Their featherless heads are due to the fact that “it would be too difficult to keep a feathered head clean.”
“When they circle around in a kettle, they take advantage of the drafts to stay in the air and forage for food. They are not revolving around something dead or else they would be there, ”Lederer wrote. “They force-feed as soon as they can, sometimes so much that they can’t fly. But if a predator tries to attack them, they vomit their meal and fly away.
Although many turkey vultures are permanent residents of California, some currently seen may be from cooler climates, moving to warmer regions as far as Mexico and Central America.