It is one of the most sensitive noses in the Animal Kingdom. Experts estimate that the turkey vulture, can detect the scent of rotting flesh in concentrations as tiny as a few parts per billion in the air. The olfactory lobe of its brain, responsible for processing smells, is particularly large compared to that of other animals. Combine that with the unique design of its nostrils which are not divided by a septum improving air sampling (from the side one can see right through the beak) and you have the turkey buzzard with the superpower of smell.
The Turkey Vulture tracks plumes of odor from decaying animals while gliding high up in the air column and homes in on them by flying in circles. Their sense of smell is so acute that they can even locate carrion below the forest canopy or something as small as a dead mouse or rat under a pile of leaves,
Contrary to popular belief Turkey Buzzards are clean birds - baking off bacteria and grooming while spreading their massive six foot wingspan in the sun – and their nostril design makes it easier to keep rotten meat from clogging them.
In contrast Black Vultures have traditional bird nostrils and can't locate food by smell and must rely on their keen vision to find carrion. From a distance as far as a few miles, black vultures will watch the behavior of turkey vultures. They see when a turkey vulture is making smaller and smaller circles around an area and when the turkey vultures go to the ground the black vultures follow. Buzzards preform a valuable service cleaning up the remains of dead animals, especially the many unfortunate animals killed on the roads everyday and reducing the spread of disease. They much prefer freshly dead animals and will not eat extremely rotten meat, the Turkey Vultures amazing sense of smell insures most carcasses are found early and don't go to waste!
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