I recently mentioned two avian species that returned to our area this year much earlier than usual (red-winged blackbird 01-20-2017 and juvenile barn swallow 02-03-2017). Leonard and I spotted another “early bird”, a single turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), on January 30th at Baum Lake (Shasta County CA), a cold day with snow on the ground.
Usually our first sighting at Baum Lake is in late February or, more commonly, early March. Also atypically, many turkey vultures return at once and this time we only saw a single vulture.
Turkey vultures are widespread throughout all of North America. The southern populations are resident in southern states. Northern birds are short or long-distance migrants. Eastern turkey vultures generally move south to areas from North Carolina to Louisiana. Western birds migrate further with many traveling to Central and South America.
In the winter we see turkey vultures in the Redding CA area – 100 miles south and 4,000 feet lower than our home in Big Valley CA (Modoc County). I often wonder if some of those birds are Big Valley summer residents.
Whether returning from nearby or from Central or South America, this turkey vulture seems rather premature.