[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: A Good Reason to Move | 05-02-2013
Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 19
1879 - Newhall civic leader Charles Henry Kingsburry born in Missouri [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, May 2, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugI have a personal history with turkey vultures, and it is worth taking a few moments to explain.

I used to live in Valencia, in the big house with the pool. But being a docent in Placerita, I got a tip that if I were to look carefully in a certain quiet neighborhood in Newhall, I would be able to observe plenty of turkey vultures.

I took my dog for a walk there, saw the vultures gliding by, and noticed that a house was for sale. It was empty and being renovated, so I entered the backyard. It was big, more like a jungle, with vegetation that had not been tamed for years.

When I reached the bottom of the slope, I was transfixed. Above me stood an enormous eucalyptus tree with a large number of turkey vultures perched in it. It was the end of the afternoon, and they were coming to roost.

Photos by Jessica Nikolai / Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Photos by Jessica Nikolai / Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Maybe we could buy this house and own the roost? In the back of my mind, I knew you never “own” anything in nature; you are granted the joy of being able to share those moments for the time nature allows – but it was worth a try.

My family was informed of my dream. They thought I would change my mind, and they put lots of restrictions on the decision. But eventually everything fell into place, and a few months later, to their great surprise, we moved into my dream house with the turkey vulture roost in the backyard.

I want to assure you that I am not nuts. The big house in Valencia was feeling too big with my children going to college, and I really had fallen in love with the roost and the wild backyard.

I have never regretted it. I have spent many wonderful moments observing these big and gentle birds.

Turkey vultures have a bad reputation because they eat carrion. But they play an important role in the ecosystem by disposing of road kill and dead animals that can spread disease.

How do they do that? They are the only bird with an acute sense of smell and are able to detect rotten meat from long distances.

They do not hunt by sight, and many tests have been performed to prove this. They pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan and find the dead body. They do not kill; they are not well equipped like other birds of prey are. Their feet are flat and cannot grasp; their talons are blunt; their beak is weak – but since their diet is softer rotten flesh, that is not a handicap.

evelyne050213dThe turkey vulture is awkward on the ground. It does not walk easily and needs open space to be able to take flight, flapping its wings and pushing off of the ground with its feet.

In flight they are majestic. They soar using the thermals, and they do not flap their wings. They keep their wings in a “V” shape and tip from side to side. They use the longer feathers on the tips of the wings to change direction.

What is a roost? Turkey vultures are gregarious, and they spend the night together in a large tree or other structure. They come about one hour before sunset and leave in the morning.

I do not know if any research has been done on the topic, but I have seen them on two occasions helping and guarding a bird that was in distress on the ground until the bird was safe enough to fly onto a roof or another higher perch some time later.

There is a slight amount of interaction at the roost, standing next to each other. In the morning, they can be seen spreading their wings to dry and warm them so they are light enough to soar. This also helps warm their body to bake off bacteria.

Turkey vultures have an interesting adaptation for warm climates: They defecate on their legs to cool themselves off. That is called urohidrosis.

It is a gentle, large bird with a wingspan of 63 to 72 inches, and they do not have many predators except when they are juveniles, when they can be attacked by eagles and great horned owls. Their primary form of defense is to vomit semi-digested meat, and the smell is foul. That is something even the babies can do if they are attacked.

They sometimes vomit pellets made of hair and feathers after a heavy and quick meal.

evelyne050213eThese birds are really unusual – they have a sense of smell, but they do not have a voice. They lack a syrinx, so all they can do is hiss when they feel threatened, and grunt, which is a more general way to communicate.

The juvenile birds have dark grey skin on the head with short, downy feathers. When they mature, the head turns red and is completely bald. Again, that is a good adaptation if you eat rotten flesh: It is much better if you do not have feathers that are there collecting debris from your meal.

They migrate toward South America. In my backyard, they would gather at the end of September. I counted between 35 and 40 birds each year, and they typically returned in January.

The breeding season varies according to location. They do not make a nest; rather, they lay two eggs on the ground under dense undergrowth or in a log. The eggs hatch after 38 to 41 days of incubation. The young are brooded 70 to 80 days.

Both parents take care of the young by regurgitating food for them. The young fledge at about 9 to 10 weeks, but the family stays together until the fall.

End of my story: Two years ago, a huge branch fell from the large eucalyptus in my back yard. The turkey vultures were shaken up; their environment had changed too much. They stayed for the rest of the year but did not come back after migration. This roost had been active for more than 50 years. I was sad that they left my back yard, but I heard they found a new place. I was told they can be seen on Wiley Canyon Road.

Dear readers, I am going to take a break and will be back with you in June. Thank you for your interest, and stay tuned for more natural-interest stories then. Take care.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.


evelyne050213c evelyne050213b

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Related Content
Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017
If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to some really bad outcomes, including kidney problems, glaucoma and other eye disorders, foot ulcers, amputation of feet or legs, stroke, diabetic coma, and even death.
Friday, Aug 11, 2017
There is no doubt the vast majority of Democrats and liberals loathe Trump. Certainly all of the leftists thoroughly hate him, and they have some company. They’re called Republicans.
Wednesday, Aug 2, 2017
In his August message to the community, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin details the city's emergency preparedness resources.
Tuesday, Aug 1, 2017
As our first president George Washington said, “We must consult our means rather than our wishes.”
Sunday, Jul 30, 2017
Many shocking surprises have shown up around the world as the ice melts. We’ve found a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth, a field of dead reindeer that died of anthrax, and then last year, infected people in Russia, and in Alaska, an Air Force plane that disappeared was finally found in the Colony Glacier. It had crashed in 1952, killing everyone on board.
Wednesday, Jul 26, 2017
When President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review the status of 27 national monuments created by three former presidents, many across the nation took it as a call to action to advocate on behalf of the monuments closest to their homes, and their hearts.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1879 - Newhall civic leader Charles Henry Kingsburry born in Missouri [story]
Alerted by a concerned citizen Friday, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies once again rescued dogs the owner left in a car with the windows rolled up and no water.
Deputies Break Window, Rescue Dogs Locked in Car
40 oz. to Freedom arrives in Santa Clarita as part of its anniversary tour at Concerts in the Park at Central Park on Saturday, August 19, with showtime at 7 p.m.
August 19: 40 Oz. to Freedom Rocks Central Park
Two local environmental groups filed a complaint in L.A. Superior Court Thursday regarding the approved plan to provide water to the Newhall Ranch development, set to break ground in 2018.
Environmental Groups File Complaint Against Newhall Ranch Water Plan
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has provided $143,000 in funding to extend the season of youth and adult swim programs offered at the Castaic Aquatic Center through October 31.
Castaic Aquatic Center Programs Extended to October 31
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, Los Angeles County firefighters and government leaders welcomed back the Super Scoopers Friday morning. Plus, the Old Town Newhall Library helped get the community ready for it as well by handing out free eclipse viewing glasses. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Friday, August 18, 2017
CalArts alumna Audrey Chan (Art MFA 07) will host a free, all-ages interactive arts workshop in Little Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday, August 19 and 20, as part of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center’s 2017 Nisei Week activities.
August 19-20: Nisei Week Arts Workshop with CalArts Alum Audrey Chan
Western singer and songwriter John Zipperer headlines the next episode of "SCVTV Presents The OutWest Concert Series" at The MAIN in Old Town Newhall the evening of Friday, August 25.
August 25: John Zipperer Toplines ‘SCVTV Presents The OutWest Concert Series’
Habitat for Humanity SFV/SCV is honored to have received a $25,000 grant from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, which will fund trauma workshops.
Habitat for Humanity Receives $25K Grant from Disabled Veterans
Here are agenda highlights for the next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, set for Tuesday, August 22, starting at 9:30 a.m..
August 22: Board of Supervisors Meeting Agenda
Ashley Olivier, a student worker at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, summited Mt. Whitney with her dad, a lieutenant at LASD's Monterey Park station.
SCV Sheriff’s Station Student Worker, LASD Dad Top Mt. Whitney
Looking to enter the win column for the first time in 2017 on day two of the Summer Slam volleyball tournament, the TMU Mustangs squared off against 11th-ranked Eastern Oregon but lost in straight sets.
Mountaineers Spike Mustangs at Summer Slam
Caltrans has released "Rail and the California Economy," a research report investigating how the state’s vast passenger and freight rail system contribute to California’s economy, as well as an overview of opportunities for rail to address the state’s needs and challenges in the future.
New Report Details Rail Role in State Economy
The Master’s University women’s soccer team soared to a 7-0 victory over the visiting Eagles from Sierra Nevada College Thursday.
Lady Mustangs Soccer Win Opener 7-0
The Master’s University women's volleyball team concluded their first day of HIU Summer Slam tournament play with a five-set thriller against the Southern Oregon University Raiders on Wednesday evening, dropping the fifth set 15-9.
Lady Mustangs Fall in 5 to Raiders at HIU
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled against claims by a state workers’ union that California’s pension system unfairly changed the terms of a pre-existing collective bargaining agreement.
Court Upholds Increase in CalPERS Retirement Age
Friday's alert from the South Coast Air Quality Management District that air quality will be unhealthy for sensitive individuals in the Santa Clarita Valley has been extended through Saturday.
Updated: SCV Air Quality Unhealthy Saturday
Four annual crime reports, which provide law enforcement agencies and the public with statewide data on crime statistics, were released Friday by California's Attorney General.
AG Releases 4 California Crime Reports for 2016
The Master’s University women’s volleyball team lost their 2017 season opener Wednesday at the HIU Summer Slam in straight sets against the Warriors from national powerhouse Corban University (OR).
Warriors Drop TMU Lady Mustangs in Straight Sets
Here's the Castaic/Val Verde (Zone 2) Crime Information and Public Safety Report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station for the week of August 7 to August 13.
Crime Blotter: Assault, Theft in Castaic-Val Verde
Two Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station employees will be recognized at the City Council meeting to be held on August 22 at 6 p.m.
City Council to Honor 2 SCV Sheriff’s Station Employees
The Santa Clarita Public Library invites residents to celebrate the upcoming total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21 with two free events at the Old Town Newhall Library.
August 18 & 21: Solar Eclipse Events at Newhall Library
The city of Santa Clarita’s Youth Sports program has seen measured success thus far in 2017.
Santa Clarita Youth Sports Sees Spike in Participation
The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center’s new building campaign now only has $1.3 million remaining to raise before groundbreaking on the site can begin.
New SCV Senior Center Needs $1.3M to Break Ground
Sacramento County sued the California Department of Water Resources on Thursday over DWR's certification of the California 'WaterFix' delta tunnels project’s “dizzying” and “shifting” environmental review.
Sacramento County Sues to Freeze California ‘WaterFix’
1946 - Pioneering Placerita Canyon movie producer Trem Carr dies in San Diego [story]
' style=
The storewide remodel of the Walmart Supercenter at 26471 Carl Boyer Drive is complete and, in addition to the many physical changes inside, Santa Clarita residents now have access to Online Grocery Pickup.
Walmart on Carl Boyer Drive Celebrates Grand Reopening Friday
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, two people have been hospitalized after a major collision. Plus, an acquisition of land near the 14. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Thursday August 17, 2017
Le Chene French Cuisine, a long-time Santa Clarita local favorite restaurant along Sierra Highway, has announced that they will be hosting a thrilling Murder Mystery Dinner on Saturday, November 4th, 2017.
Nov. 4: Le Chene Murder Mystery Dinner
Senator Scott Wilk, R- Antelope Valley, today announces that he is one of the 2017 inductees into the Antelope Valley High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
Sept. 22: Wilk to be Inducted into AV High School Hall of Fame
Signups are under way for the Santa Clarita Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which offers participants an opportunity to take a healthy stroll, experience outstanding live entertainment, honor loved ones who have been affected by Alzheimer’s and raise funds to battle the debilitating disease.
Oct. 7: Walk to End Alzheimer’s; Signups Under Way
Trammell Crow Company (TCC) andand Clarion Partners are pleased to announce the acquisition of 54 acres of land for the development of The Center at Needham Ranch, a state-of-the-art business park in the city of Santa Clarita, CA.
TCC, Clarion Partners Acquire More Than 50 Acres of SCV Real Estate
The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration is hosting what will be a highly educational and informative (and free) Tax Seminar for Nonprofits and Exempt Organizations.
Sept. 6: Tax Seminar for Non-Profits and Exempt Organizations
For the first time in 99 years, a total eclipse of the sun will pass over the continental United States on August 21, and Princess Cruises guests sailing on six cruise ships in Alaska will be invited to special viewing parties as part of the cruise line’s exclusive Stargazing with Discovery at Sea program.
Princess Cruises to Host On-Board Viewing Parties for Solar Eclipse