By Don Corrigan
In mid-March, Californians welcome their famous cliff swallows back to Capistrano. In late February, Missourians welcome their infamous turkey vultures to the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery with an annual Vulture Venture.
Missouri’s turkey vultures are infamous because they are considered ugly and repulsive by many. However, the dark-colored birds deserve a better reputation because these large birds perform an invaluable service in nature.
Turkey vultures do valuable clean-up duties by ridding the landscape of dead animals. They thoroughly enjoy a meal of rotting flesh and odorous carcass. Where others fear to tread, the turkey vultures are always ready to chow down.
Technically, the vultures do not actually return to the Branson area in late February. They are present in great numbers in the vicinity of the hatchery all winter. However, they become more visible as the winter cold recedes in late February and the air gets warmer.
The increased sunlight as spring approaches will prompt the turkey vultures to begin stirring. As the air warms, the birds are once again able to ride the thermals and scout the ground below for potential breakfast, lunch and dinner as they fly.
Vultures can be viewed around Lake Taneycomo throughout the year, but in winter the trout-fishing spot attracts these birds by the hundreds. Resident and migrating vultures love the canyon-like topography that can give the birds protection from cold winds. Plenty of large shoreline trees also offer vultures sturdy roosting sites.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) invites people to view these misunderstood birds at its annual Vulture Venture program. The program is always located at Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery on the west end of Lake Taneycomo, just below Table Rock Dam.
Vulture Ventures have been happening since 1994 and can include a number of activities, such as displays of a captive vulture with a handler, usually from Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield; children’s activities with spotting scopes for viewing vultures in the wild; and, a children’s vulture roadkill game.
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