The Gathering

Check out this video we captured last evening at Devil’s Lake State Park! The annual gathering of Turkey Vultures is always a hard catch at the park and this year, it’s been harder still.

For as long as I can remember the Turkey Vultures have spent the summer months hanging out at Devil’s Lake State Park. (They are the big black birds that lots of people think are eagles!) In recent years, it seems like their numbers have been increasing as well. Now it’s common to see them everywhere around the Baraboo Hills during the summer. That said, the autumn gathering at Devil’s Lake State Park is something truly special!

Turkey Vultures are considered partial migrants, in that the ones who spend their summers up north go south in the winter, while the ones who live in the southern part of the country just stay there year around. Interestingly, our northern vultures will fly right over their southern cousins during migration and head as far south as Central and South America for the winter!

Turkey Vultures as you might know, take advantage of thermals and updrafts to save energy when they fly. They migrate using hilly terrain, mountain ridges, shorelines, and coastlines where they can take advantage of the moving air currents. The vultures usually won’t migrate during still or overcast days since they won’t produce the thermals that offer the easy rides. Vultures are gliders and will only fly if they have too.

Vultures Soaring over the Chateau

Vultures Soaring over the Chateau

It makes sense then that the Turkey Vultures here in our part of the world gather at Devil’s Lake State Park each autumn to rest up and socialize around our rocky cliffs before heading south. Depending on the year, we can see hundreds of vultures gather at the park for a short stay. You’ll often find them roosting in the trees atop the west bluff, in the pines by the parks nature center, and outside the park to the north as well. Just about the time you realize they are here for their big meetup, they’ll disappear until next year.

And seeing the gathering? Well, that’s the trick. Each year is different depending on the weather of course. When they come, where they stay around the lake, and when they leave can change each year. This year, in fact, they seem to have come in a couple of sets instead of one big group. What I can say is if you can experience it, standing under a cloud of Turkey Vultures is amazing, awe-inspiring and a little bit scary… Just as it should be right before Halloween.

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