Vultures are frequent flyers at Orcas airport

Turkey vultures are everywhere it seems and they’re wreaking havoc at island airports. Port of Orcas Airport Manager Jeannie Sharp is making more pilots aware of their increased presence with reminders to stay aware and stay safe.

On Monday, June 20, she released an email noting that there was “a bird strike at Orcas today, which was most likely a turkey. … Nobody was hurt, but the turkey did not fare so well, unfortunately.

“We have searched for the reason the vultures might be around,” she continued, “and, except for today’s turkey, I don’t know why the vultures frequent the airport recently.”

We wondered too, so we asked Barbara Jensen, president of the local chapter of the Audubon Society why Orcas Airport might be seeing an increased number of the winged carrions.

Of course, the vulture increase at Orcas Airport could be due to a dead carcass of something in the area, Jensen said, but it’s also likely that there’s more at the airport because there are more turkey vultures.

“We’ve seen an explosion in Washington’s turkey vulture population over the past 35 years,” Jensen said, “a growth that can be attributed somewhat to climate change.”

Plus, she added runway asphalt contributes to a thermal effect that provides the large-winged birds much-needed lift.

“Turkey vultures are not the best flyers and need all the help they can get to get airborne, so it’s not surprising to find them gravitating to airports.

“Friday Harbor’s airport is seeing an influx as well,” she said.

Jensen wanted to remind the population that turkey vultures are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 which makes the killing of one a felony with a penalty of up to $200,000 for an organization, $100,000 for an individual, and/or up to one year in prison.

For more information about the turkey vulture explosion and other local bird populations, visit the Facebook page San Juan Islands Audubon.