For the Birds: Turkey vultures head toward Santa Fe

March 27, 2017 GMT

A sure sign of spring is the arrival of turkey vultures. We had a report last week from someone who spotted 10 turkey vultures in a tree in her Santa Fe neighborhood. These vultures winter in Mexico and Central America but return to our area in late March. This tw0-foot-long bird has a wingspan of 5½ feet.

Although sometimes mistaken for a large hawk in flight, the turkey vultures’s clumsy wing beats and unsteady, rocking flight cannot be missed. Most hawks are fairly steady as they soar. Birds typically have a lousy sense of smell and find their food by sight. Not so of vultures, whose excellent sense of smell leads them to food. Since they eat carrion (the decaying flesh of dead animals), a keen sense of smell makes finding pungent carcasses a snap.

All winter you’ve been telling us of the huge numbers of robins you’ve seen in your backyards and at your birdbaths. Comments have ranged from “I love them — what a treat!” to “They are messy pests, when will they leave?” Well, some of you will be happy to hear that these large flocks are beginning to disperse.

It’s nesting season and most bird species pair up to nest. Flocking is helpful in the winter as birds congregate around steady sources of food and water but finding a partner is less of a group activity. I would expect some of our robins will head north and others will stick around to nest.

Robins aren’t the only birds beginning to nest. Most of you have probably noticed a heavy dose of bird songs, especially in the mornings. Courtship and nesting is underway. We’ve heard a number of reports of bluebirds, house finches, juniper titmice and many others building nests and laying eggs. You’ll soon begin to see fledglings learning to navigate your feeders and birdbaths.

Natural food that birds have feasted on all winter is in short supply, so be sure to supplement your bird’s diet with high-fat food like a good quality nesting blend with plenty of sunflowers, sunflower chips, nuts, suet nuggets and calcium. Added calcium helps strengthen the bones of mama and baby birds and keeps eggshells tough. Calcium can also be found in some suet and some suet nuggets.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited of Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World.