Officials at Everglades National Park caught sight of a rare, bright white turkey vulture perched beside its brunette-colored buddy.
Typically, when we spot a turkey vulture, it’s not all that exciting. These scavengers often appear whenever another animal has passed and they’re there to collect the remains. This time, though, the vulture’s stark white coloring caused national park staff to pause for a photo.
According to wildlife experts, the white turkey vulture was actually leucistic, a genetic condition that prevents an animal from having any color in its fur, feathers or skin.
“This leucistic turkey vulture has been spotted in the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park in the past. Leucism is when an animal has a partial loss of pigment which results in a white or pale coloration,” the park shared in the post.
White Turkey Vulture May Be at a Disadvantage
Unlike albinism, though, leucism doesn’t cause a total absence of color. Oftentimes, animals with leucism will have white spots or segments. In this case, the turkey vulture had a couple of brown feathers hiding beneath its wings. Its head also appeared to have some darker coloring, too.
As stunning as the vulture’s white feathers are, they may prove to be an obstacle for the bird. With their typical brown coloring, these scavengers are able to blend into their environment. Without this camouflage, though, they may attract competitors to their location or predators to their nest. Other large wild birds like golden eagles, bald eagles, great horned owls and red-tail hawks have stolen vulture chicks and fledglings from nests, and mammals like raccoons, foxes and opossums may even steal eggs.
Luckily, though, turkey vultures have a backup defense maneuver – and it’s pretty gross.
“As a defense mechanism, turkey vultures may vomit on a bird, animal, or human that gets too close. Considering what they eat, this can be a powerful weapon,” All About Birds stated.
As long as the white vulture has a full belly, it will likely survive just as well as its brown-feathered friends.
Nature’s Clean-up Crew Is Still Feeling the Effects of Banned Pesticides
Even though turkey vultures may not be the most popular wild bird, they play an incredibly vital role in a variety of environments.
“Turkey Vultures play an important role in the health of our ecosystems,” says the Peregrine Fund. “As nature’s clean-up crews, they help eliminate rotting carcasses, which helps control the spread of certain diseases and generally helps the air smell a lot better!”
Unfortunately, even these creatures are facing turmoil. Though the nation’s population doesn’t appear on the Endangered Species List, it is still experiencing the consequences of past pesticides.
“Like so many other wildlife species, Turkey Vultures were negatively affected by the use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s and 1960s in North America,” the Peregrine Fund informed. “Use of the chemical was banned in 1972.”
Thankfully, though, according to the fund, the species is stable and on the rebound.
“They are common and widespread in the Americas and evidence suggests that they are expanding their range northward,” the fund stated. “This could be because of climate change, or because they are able to survive in human-altered landscapes, which now may provide them with more food sources than were present historically.”