Thom Smith: What are the migratory habits of the turkey vulture?

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Q I have a pigeon that arrived at my house a week ago. It seems to be in good shape, has bands on both legs, and is quite calm and friendly, allowing me to get within a couple of feet away from her/him. It seemed very hungry, so I have been giving it bird seed that we use for our conures and that seems to be something she likes (I'm assuming it's a girl). She doesn't mind when my dog chases her away and just comes back a few minutes later. I assume that she belongs somewhere and perhaps got lost in the storm we had a week ago. I want to help her, but the only problem is that she roosts in our garage, which is not great for our cars. I'm looking for advice on what to do or how to find out where she belongs. Thank you

— Patty, Lenox

A The problem with racing pigeons once lost or injured, the owner I have been told usually has given it up for lost. There are several racing and homing pigeon clubs where one may get information and there is a "found pigeon" tracker if you can supply the band numbers. This I recently found; try www.pigeon.org/foundbirdcontact.php. The closest club I located is Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club. The e-mail that I have is henrypigeon182@gmail.com, and the other closest club is Chicopee Racing Pigeon Club, phone 774-242-4693.

Another source for helping disabled birds is The Berkshire Bird Paradise, where I have brought birds on several occasions, in addition to bags of food back in its early days

About the sanctuary: The Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary is a bird sanctuary for disabled and injured birds. It strives to give them a safe haven to live thrive and rehabilitate as best it can. It is dedicated to educating people to recognize the beauty of nature's world, which surrounds our busy lives. We are all part of the web of life and all life is precious. It was founded in1975. For more information, go to birdparadise.org.

One of the largest bird sanctuaries in the country, it has evolved into an outdoors educational institution, where students on field trips with their parents or on college internship programs can learn about birds. The sanctuary is also a small botanical garden with hundreds of plants and exotic flowers .It is constantly improving its grounds, with the help of volunteers. It always welcomes exotic plants that need a good home and has heated enclosed areas to keep them healthy through the long cold winters The sanctuary had a spell of bad luck recently when its Parrot Pavilion (a state-of-the-art bird facility with climate and lighting controls) caught fire. Something that one never gets over when the birds they were giving a safe place to live out their days, turned out to be not so safe a home. And Peter Dubacher, the founder and director of the operation had coronary problems.

If you plan on visiting, call ahead 518-279-3801, especially during renovations. There is a small admission, kept small because of the volunteers. Email is also managed by a volunteer: peterdubacher@yahoo.com

Q On Nov. 2, I saw overhead a flock of 13 turkey vultures. I thought they'd have migrated south by now.

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— Howard, Gansevoort, N.Y.

A To the contrary, they do not migrate to the deep South, and many will go only as far as the Carolinas. At one time, they did migrate far more than they do today, and not long before that, they didn't even come this far north. I once thought of them as southern or western birds and, like coyotes, once saw buzzards only in cowboy movies or in Bart Hendricks nature movies on Saturday mornings in the fall at The Berkshire Museum's Nature Hour. I saw the first (for me) turkey vulture in Sheffield, while on a Hoffmann Bird Club outing in 1959 on May 8. And its relative, the black vulture became a "life bird" for me in Florida in December 1965, but it was during the winter of 2011 that I saw my first one up north, also in Sheffield. At your low elevation, you may see a few vultures on and off through the winter.

Black vultures have been recorded at various times during the winter here in the Berkshires, and turkey vultures are considered year-round in Connecticut, so seeing them in Sheffield is not as exciting as it once was. Considering these birds can migrate upwards to 200 miles a day, it doesn't take long to reach North Carolina, for instance. I have seen both species occasionally during the winter.

Ralph Hoffmann (not coincidentally the name of the bird club on whose trips I saw my first "local" vultures) didn't even mention either in his "Guide to The Birds of New England and Eastern New York," published in 1904, although the turkey vulture was first recorded in 1891. They were uncommon with only one or two birds sighted until 1927 when seven birds were seen in the southern Berkshires. In 1950, Bartlett Hendricks reported turkey vultures a sure thing between April and the first week of July and only spotty during March, July and August, with an occasional sighting in September and October. An early nest was found in 2003 In Dalton by Scott Jervas, who was my aquarium assistant. The black vulture, although first reported in 1932, had only 10 confirmed sightings between then and 1978. Today, both are seen regularly here.

In 1994 in Bartlett Hendricks' "Birds of Berkshire County,' it was listed as a summer resident with only rare winter sightings. Today that has all changed, we can expect them year-round. And your elevation is about 240 feet above sea level, far lower than the average elevation of Berkshire County of 700 feet to 1,200 feet. (Sheffield elevation is 676 feet, where we first sighted these birds.

COMMENT ON LAST SUNDAY'S COLUMN

Dear Thom Smith: Lovage has been a welcome addition to our herb garden in Adams for several years now. Although ours has never reached the heights you described, it is a hardy perennial and the celery-scented and flavored leaves add a lovely touch to our salads and soups.

— Julie, Adams


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