Scavenging Beauties of Orcas Island

posted in: Bite Size Factoids | 4
During low tide in Orcas Island, WA. Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles & Otters come out to hunt & scavenge on washed up fish, crustaceans & mollusks like crabs & oysters. Photo by Scott McGee at
During low tide in Orcas Island, WA. Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles & Otters come out to hunt & scavenge on washed up fish, crustaceans & mollusks like crabs & oysters. Photo by Scott McGee at Forest2SeaAdventurePhoto.

The Hunt For Low Tide Grub – Scavenging Beauties of Orcas Island

Cruising in & out of Moran State Park in Orcas Island, WA., Scott (Forest2SeaAdventurePhoto) & I would pass by this patch of water where usually otters, bald eagles & turkey vultures hunt for low tide grub such as oysters & crabs. On one of those drive thru cruises, I asked Scott to pull over & borrowed the camera (a rare request) to take some shots of these scavenging beauties of Orcas Island…Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura).

We did get to see a few otters enjoying some grub, but they were too far to photograph. I also had the lucky opportunity to capture a bald eagle in flight. They’re quite shy Crtrs. We only could get so close before they flew up to the tree tops, leaving the turkey vultures alone with their treats. These Crtrs weren’t as shy so I had a ton of fun playing photographer for a moment.


The Clan Don’t Mind The Cam

I was thrilled at how comfortable the vultures were of my being there watching & taking shots as they search for goodies. They may not be attractive Crtrs to some, of course, I rarely see any Crtr as ugly, but they are quite beneficial to our ecosystem.

Let’s get into Bite Size Factoid: These Crtrs get the first part of their name, “Turkey” from the adults resembling a male wild turkey which share similar bald, red heads & dark plumage. The second part of their name, “Vultures, refers to the way they tear their food. This brings us to why they play an important role in our ecosystem.

These omnivores feed mostly on recently dead mammals from as small as a rodent to as large as a cow. They also prefer herbivorous animals over carnivorous. They’re nature’s quicker picker upper. Unlike most birds that forage for food using their visual senses, vultures use their sense of smell to detect a scent produced from a recently dead carcass called Ethyl Mercaptan.

Why don’t you hear these Crtrs squawk, chirp or crow? They don’t sport vocal organs like other birds. The main sounds coming out of their throats are hisses or grunts. Although their population are at stable numbers, they’re still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The clan don’t mind the cam as long as you respect their space & watch from a distance.

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) scavenging on some kind of treat leaving behind only the spinal column pictured here in front of them. Orcas Island, WA
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) takes notice of me, but doesn’t shy away. Instead it poses regal for the lens. Orcas Island, WA.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) searching for some grub at Orcas Island, WA.

Other Distractions That Caught My Eye

While photographing these Crtrs I noticed a Bald Eagle that flew from my right. I was camera ready. Even though the shot didn’t turn out as sharp as I hoped, I was glad I caught one in flight.

Other distractions that caught my eye was this old barn which was sitting just across the water. I felt it call out my name. I do have a weak spot for old cabins, barns, cottages, etc. The more run down history it shows, the more it reels me in. So, while I still had my man’s camera in hand, I took a shot at some abstract art that sits quietly nearby its natural set up.

The Island's Majesty
A Bald Eagle takes flight in Orcas Island, WA.
Barn Fun House
An old barn with a tilted wooden window frame giving it an interesting optical illusion. Orcas Island, WA.

The Crtrs That Stole The Show

All in all, I’m glad Scott & I stopped at a spot we drove by frequently during our stay on the island. I’ve only seen vultures from afar & never in larger groups, even though they are considered a gregarious species.

I wish I was able to capture more bald eagles & some otters, but not this visit. As I mentioned before, bald eagles took flight when we stopped to park. The 2 or 3 otters were, barely popping their heads out above water before they decided to dive back in & leave for the day.

The Crtrs that stole the show were definitely the vultures. What a joy it was that I took a chance behind the camera, but I think I’m better at meeting & bonding with Crtrs.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) takes flight to another spot on the water patch hoping to find more tasty treats.


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