Photographed in Attwater NWR.
Turkey Vultures are large dark birds with long, broad wings. Bigger than other raptors except eagles and condors, they have long "fingers" at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight. When soaring, Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a ‘V’ when seen head-on.
Black Vultures are large raptors. In flight, they hold their broad, rounded wings flat and angled slightly forward. The tail is very short and rounded. They have small, bare heads and narrow but strongly hooked bills.
In the U.S., Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.
Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.
One-on-one at a carcass, Black Vultures lose out to the slightly larger Turkey Vulture. But flocks of Black Vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary Turkey Vultures away.
Black Vultures lack a voice box and so their vocal abilities are limited to making raspy hisses and grunts.
Although Black Vultures and their relatives live only in North and South America, the oldest fossils from this group—at least 34 million years old—were found in Europe.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR with Loyd Dalton on 10-09-2019
Grasslands and savannas are great places to fly a kite and that's exactly where you will find the White-tailed Kite, flying as if it were attached to a kite string. With its body turned toward the wind and wings gently flapping, it hovers above the ground, a behavior that’s so distinctive it’s become known as kiting. From above it tips its head down to look for small mammals moving in the grass below. Its white underparts, gleaming white tail, and black shoulder patches are its other marks of distinction.
During the nonbreeding season, the White-tailed Kite roosts communally. Sometimes more than 100 individuals pile into a few trees or tall shrubs at the edge of a grassland or savanna.
White-tailed Kites have a tiny range in the U.S., but they occur throughout the Americas, breeding as far south as Chile and Argentina. A closely related and very similar species, the Black-shouldered Kite, occurs across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Photographed in Brazos Bend State Park
One day I watched a pair of MS Kites dive into hundreds of dragonflies, snatch one, then sail back up where it would devour the dragonfly on the wing, then dive back down and snatch another. It was nature's showcase and all I had was an iPhone!
The Mississippi Kite makes a streamlined silhouette as it careens through the sky on the hunt for small prey, or dive-bombs intruders that come too close to its nest tree. These sleek, pearly gray raptors often hunt together and nest colonially in stands of trees, from windbreaks on southern prairies to old-growth bottomlands in the Southeast (and even on city parks and golf courses). After rearing their chicks they fly all the way to central South America for the winter.
Mississippi Kites in the Southeast lead a different life from kites in prairie states to the west. Western birds usually nest colonially in small woodlands on the prairie, where they can be locally abundant. Eastern birds are less abundant, breed in old-growth forest, and are less likely to nest in colonies.
Mississippi Kites have increased in the western part of their range thanks to recent changes in the landscape, such as shelterbelts planted by farmers and ranchers. When they nest in city parks and golf courses it can be problematic since the kites tend to dive-bomb people who come too close to their nests.
Nestlings preen each other, arrange nesting material together, and show very little aggression toward their siblings—unusual traits for raptor chicks. At 25-30 days of age they start moving from the nest to nearby tree limbs and back, and they leap into flight several days later.
The kite’s nest may be located next to (or even contain) a wasp nest, which probably helps protect the chicks against climbing predators. Smaller bird species—such as Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and House Sparrows—may nest near or on kite nests, usually coexisting peacefully with the kites.
A 1-year-old kite will often hang around the nest of a breeding pair and may help with defending the nest, incubating the eggs, or even brooding the chicks. The pair usually accepts the help, but sometimes chases the yearling away.