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Vulture Venture at Shepherd of Hills Hatchery is Feb. 20

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BRANSON, Mo. – Vultures are a well-known, but usually under-appreciated member of the bird world. Often used as a stereotypical sign of tragedy in movies, these large, dark-colored birds are often referred to as “buzzards,” and perform valuable roles in nature.

Turkey Vulture search for food during the spring at Eagle Bluff Conservation Area near Columbia, Mo. Vultures are a well-known, but under-appreciated member of the bird world. On Feb. 20 at the Missouri Department of Conservation's Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, people can learn more about these interesting birds at the free Vulture Venture program

Turkey Vultures search for food at Eagle Bluff Conservation Area near Columbia, Mo. Vultures are a well-known, but under-appreciated member of the bird world, and common in the Ozarks. On Feb. 20, at the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, visitors can learn more at the free “Vulture Venture” program.

Natural features bordering Lake Taneycomo in the Ozarks attract large numbers of vultures each winter. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is urging people to learn about these often-misunderstood birds on Saturday, Feb. 20, at its Vulture Venture program, from Noon to 5 p.m. at MDC’s Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, located on the west end of Lake Taneycomo, just below Table Rock Dam.

Vultures can be seen throughout the year, but in winter, this well-known trout-fishing spot attracts hundreds of the birds because of its canyon-like topography that gives the birds a haven from cold winter winds. Plenty of large sycamore trees supply vultures with sturdy roosting sites so that other turkey vultures and black vultures choose this spot as a wintering site.

A pair of black vultures on a front lawn in southwest Springfield makes for a strange bird sighting in 2015.

A pair of black vultures on a front lawn in southwest Springfield makes for a strange bird sighting in 2015.

These natural features attract hundreds of vultures each winter. This mass gathering of vultures provides opportunities to see these birds, which have an undeserved bad reputation. Although many people find vultures disgusting, they perform a valuable clean-up service by ridding the environment of dead animals.

In fact, they co-exist to overcome weaknesses in each species. Black vultures find their meals with keen eyesight or by following turkey vultures, which possess a keener sense of smell, and are more graceful in the air, but do not see as well as black vultures, which also tend to be clumsy in flight because of their shorter wingspan. Both species are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The Vulture Venture event will consist of outside viewing opportunities and indoor activities. Outside, people will be able to see vultures along the lake through spotting scopes. Indoors at the hatchery’s Conservation Center, people can get an up-close-and-personal view of a live, rehabilitated vulture furnished by the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield.

No reservations are required for this free event. For more information, call the Hatchery at 417-334-4865, extension 0. Information about vultures and other birds of Missouri can also be found at mdc.mo.gov.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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