116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Each March the arrival of one of Iowa's most visible and valuable birds heralds the coming of spring and marks the return of nature's cleanup crew.
Turkey vultures live in southern states and throughout South America all year, but abandon Iowa and other northern states each fall to winter where it's warmer.
Except for eagles and condors, turkey vultures are our largest raptor and one of the easiest to identify. Graceful soarers, they glide through the air on wings tilted upward in a 'v” shape. From a distance the bird looks black, but they are really very dark brown.
Unlike almost all other birds, turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell. That, combined with outstanding vision, helps them locate dead and decaying animals. The sense of smell is especially helpful to find food in wooded areas where leaves and branches block sight.
Turkey vultures live comfortably near people and are common in the sky over urban and suburban areas. They prefer nesting in rocky cliffs, but also set up housekeeping in large hollow trees and old barns. Several pairs nest in and near Cedar Rapids and other Corridor towns. Winding Pathways has had a turkey vulture pair raise young for three years in a nearby hollow basswood tree. Turkey vulture chicks are snow white with black eyes and beaks. We never see the young, but catch a glimpse of the parent quietly sliding in to feed them. Rarely have we seen the brood fledge, and when we do, how exciting!
Cars may be the vulture's best friend. Any deer, raccoon, opossum or other unfortunate creature killed by an auto is potential vulture lunch. Often they are spotted along a road eating roadkill. Without these magnificent birds, our world would be smellier and messier.
Lots of people who read the column have asked where they can see eagles nesting.
Two bald eagle nests are on small islands in the Cedar River just upstream from downtown Cedar Rapids - the perfect place to view them and not disturb them.
The closer nest is active and the white head of an incubating bird often can be seen in the nest.
To find the nest, drive upriver from Cooper's Mill on First Street NW. Park just before the road turns to the left and becomes Penn Avenue NW. Climb up on the levee and sit on a park bench that faces the river. The eagle nests are across the river high in large cottonwood trees.
Although the nest can be easily seen without optics, a pair of binoculars will make viewing much more interesting.
' Marion Patterson is a retired educator. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids.