The vultures have begun to arrive!! There are always turkey vultures at Devil’s Lake State Park, but once a year vultures from all over the Midwest gather at the park for a short time before heading south for the winter. We generally expect large numbers of vultures to appear sometime around Columbus day, but nature doesn’t follow an exact schedule and we simply have to keep our eyes out for them. I took this video 2 days ago and have had reports from others who’ve seen larger numbers of vultures (called “kettles”) in the area as well.
Now here’s the thing; Just like we don’t know when they will arrive, we don’t know when they will leave either. Studies have shown that vultures use weather fronts travel during migration and just as they come in with the weather, they will soon hitch a ride on another front to move on. It’s pretty unpredictable. So, if you want to see the vultures this year, the sooner the better.
At Devil’s Lake, the vultures roost in the trees somewhere to the north and west of the lake itself. Each morning and evening, just after sunrise and an hour or so before sunset, the birds will gather over the lake riding the thermals created by the bluffs. At times, we’ve seen hundreds gathered at once! You can expect the largest number of turkey vultures to stay gathered for only a short time, (Maybe an hour, maybe less) before they split up and head off to hunt or roost depending on the time of day. We’d suggest parking down by the north shore boat landing and watching the birds from that area of the shoreline. (This is where the video was taken) Don’t worry, they will not only gather in the distance, but they will fly right over your head as well. Remember, don’t get too close or chase the vultures that land on the beach for water.
Turkey vultures are pretty easy to spot. They are large birds with up to a 6-foot wingspan. They have red heads, white beaks, their bodies are black and they have grey on their underwing. Chances are you won’t see their red heads or white underwings with them silhouetted against the sky. (Their wings make the shape of a “V” in the sky, unlike eagles who carry their wings more horizontal.)
Again, let me repeat, nature if fickle and doesn’t follow our rules. We can’t promise that the birds will appear at any given time or in such large numbers or for how long. One day soon, without notice, they will just be gone. (Until next year)