Bird’s Eye View: The Imposter Among Us

Even if you are not into birds in the slightest, most folks in La Ventana and El Sargento are familiar with those large black birds with the broad wings soaring effortlessly over our heads without flapping for seemingly hours or perched on the tops of the cardon cacti with their wings held wide open to warm themselves up after a cool night.

Turkey Vulture (photo: Charles Kling)

These birds are called turkey vultures because their dark bodies and featherless reddish heads make us think of turkeys. They seldom if ever kill any prey, preferring instead to dine upon dead animals or carrion. But not so fast! When you supposedly see one of them flying overhead with its wings held in the typical V-shape and tipping slightly from side to side, you could be looking at something else — a zone-tailed hawk! These clever birds of prey have adapted their flight behaviour to mimic the harmless turkey vultures so that they can sneak in closer to unsuspecting rodents and rabbits.

Zone-tailed Hawk (photo: Charles Kling)

While zone-tailed hawks are much less common than the turkey vultures, rest assured that they do occasionally fly over the sunny skies of our two villages. The next time you see a so-called turkey vulture passing overhead, look at the head and the tail. If you see a good-sized feathered head and a tail with a white bar, you are looking at the imposter.

And no, they won’t go after your chihuahuas!

David M. Bird, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University –