International Vulture Awareness Day

    Ratmo the Turkey VultureEach year, on the first Saturday in September, vultures are celebrated all over the world with International Vulture Awareness Day. This event started as many different Vulture Awareness Days until several organizations joined forces to create this special occasion. Wildlife centers, parks, and zoological facilities have educational programs and activities to bring awareness to these beautiful and important birds on this special day.

Know your Vultures

     There are twenty-three species of vultures which can be divided into two groups of vultures: New World and Old World Vultures. What’s the difference? Old World Vultures are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but New World vultures can be found right in the Americas! Additionally, New World vultures have an excellent sense of smell, whereas the Old World Vultures rely mostly on their keen eyesight. Strong beaks and taloned feet allow for Old World Vultures to rip through larger, heavier carrion.

Local Vultures

     Pennsylvania is home to two different types of vultures, the turkey vulture and the black vulture. Since they are much more abundant, they can be seen across much of the state, whereas the black vulture will primarily be found in the Southern portion. Both species have adaptations that help them thrive in their habitats.

     Now, what is the difference and how can I spot one?

Ratmo the Turkey Vulture     Ratmo, our turkey vulture (left), was born in 1991, making her 31 years old. Much like her name suggests, she loves his rats!

     Turkey vultures have a characteristic red, featherless head that keeps them clean as they are ripping through carrion. These individuals have an excellent sense of smell that helps them smell carrion from nearly a mile away.

     A behavioral adaptation is that they may defecate down their legs to kill any bacteria that may be there and cool themselves down.

     When not in flight, you will see dark brown and black feathers. However, when they are flying you can see the underside of the wing which is dark at the shoulder, and lighter on the bottom portion. Also, their wings are held into a V-like shape and will appear as though they are “wobbly.”

Morticia the Black Vulture     Morticia, our black vulture (right), was born in 2014, which makes her eight years old! She loves her meatballs. At first, she may be a bit skittish, but will warm up to others quickly.

     Black vultures also have a featherless head, but it is black in color. Because of their poorly developed sense of smell, multiple black vultures may follow turkey vultures toward carrion in the hopes of outcompeting the turkey vultures for the food.

     The syrinx, or the voice box of a bird, is not found in the black vulture, so they are only capable of making hisses or grunts.

     Other than when they defend their nest, black vultures are fiercely loyal and will share food with relatives and will even feed their young after fledging.

     Unlike the turkey vulture, black vultures will appear completely black when not in flight. Once they are soaring above, you can see the underside of their wing that is almost all black except for the ends of their top few feathers. The key to remembering this is that they look like they have “fingers” on the end of their wings.

Why are Vultures Important and How Can You Help?

     As scavengers, vultures act as nature’s cleanup crew by eating carrion before it decays and using their extremely acidic stomach acid to kill any bacteria or pathogen that the animal may have carried. Consuming the infected carrion benefits not only animal health, but also human health as it prevents bacteria and pathogens from entering waterways.

     Vulture species range anywhere from Least Concern to Critically Endangered, so it is important that we do our part to conserve their populations. There are several ways you can help vultures, starting with educating others with your newfound vulture knowledge! You could talk about their unique adaptations, importance, and ways that humans can help. Also, by visiting zoos such as the Lehigh Valley Zoo, you are supporting the conservation initiatives taken by these facilities.


Written by Cassidy Amerman
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

Photos courtesy of Nancy Dawley

   Back to blog posts

Living A Little Greener

Conservation Education Specialist Tara holding up reusable and eco-friendly products available in the zoo's Nature Store Gift Shop    I’m sure you’ve heard about how you should use reusable shopping bags and avoid using single use plastics like straws. You’ve probably also been told how important it is to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but I wanted to take a look at some not so well-known, easy ways that you can help save wild animals and to protect the world we share.

    It can be pretty daunting to think about all the issues going on in the world and to wonder how small changes we make could possibly help when things seem so dire. Honestly though, the only way things will change or improve is by people around the world deciding to start small by making changes in their daily lives. Then the ripple effect of those actions can lead to larger impacts as companies see the demand for more conservation focused businesses. So here are some simple ways that you can make more sustainable choices in your daily life.

Save Vanishing Species Stamps

Photo of Meeko the raccoon holding an envelope with a Save Vanishing Species US postage stamp on it.    Mailing letters has almost become a thing of the past with how easy and convenient online messaging and bill pay has become. Sometimes though, we do still need to mail invitations, important documents, or the rare postcard. It seems strange, but you can actually help support animal conservation efforts with your choice of stamp.

    The Save Vanishing Species Stamps was created in 2011 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help raise funds for international conservation programs. The cost of these stamps is a little more expensive than first class postage so that a portion of the proceeds can go toward conservation programs for animals like elephants, great apes, turtles, rhinoceroses, and tigers. Since 2011, over $6.4 million has been raised by people purchasing these stamps! Check out the USPS website to purchase your stamps.

Meatless Mondays

Photo of a grilled vegetarian dish with the text "Meatless Mondays" superimposed    Turning vegetarian or vegan may not be a life choice you are looking to make, but reducing the amount of meat you consume from the meat industry can actually have a positive impact on the environment even just if it is one day a week.

    Sources say that by skipping one beef meal every week for a year and choosing a plant-based option instead, you can save the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as driving 348 miles in a car would create and thus help significantly reduce your carbon footprint. As an added perk, Meatless Mondays can actually have a positive effect on your health! Research shows that incorporating more veggies into your diet can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as help with maintaining a healthy weight. Looking for some recipes to try? Check out The Buddhist Chef’s website for some tasty, easy to make recipes!

Amazon Smile

Amazon Smile logo    Want to donate money to your favorite charity but find that really isn’t in the budget for you right now? You are certainly not alone with this, but Amazon has developed a program that allows you to passively help generate donations! Amazon Smile allows people to shop on Amazon (which most of us do pretty regularly) and will donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to a charity of your choosing at no additional cost to you. If you are looking for a new charity to donate to, consider choosing the Lehigh Valley Zoo for your Amazon Smile account beneficiary.

    Additionally, the program tracks how much money you’ve generated for your charity simply by shopping for things you were already buying, so you can get to see exactly how much was raised for you charity! Adding Amazon Smile to your account and selecting the charity you want donated to is a very simple process. Get started by visiting Amazon Smile!

Thrift Store Shopping

Graphic with the text "for every 10 bags, 1 tree is planted"    Let’s talk about the elephant in the room… or the extra clothes in your closet. Did you know that the textile industry is one of the leading causes of pollution? By shopping at a thrift or consignment shop, you are helping to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are being produced by textile companies. We have all been guilty of wanting a new outfit when we have a special occasion coming up or of going shopping when we want to update our closet for the season. Getting those clothes as gently used or in like new condition at a thrift store means that you have extended the life of those clothes and also helped prevent more items from unnecessarily being added to our landfills. It is estimated that approximately 11 million tons of clothes are being added to landfills yearly. A nice bonus to thrift store shopping is that you can often find name brand pieces for a fraction of the cost!

    Hand in hand with wanting new clothes is the question of what to do with those clothes that have been sitting unwanted in the back of your closet collecting dust. There are companies out there like USAgain which accept clothing donations and actually strive to make the world a better place. USAgain has partnered with Trees for the Future since 2013 to plant a tree every time one of the donation bins is filled. Since the start of that partnership, over 1 million trees have been planted! It’s important to do your research before choosing what company you want to donate to so you know what impact you will be having. For example, companies like USAgain actually sell some of the clothes you donate, which sounds like a bad thing. Did you know though that simply donating your clothes to third world countries actually hurts their economy? By donating to companies that sell the clothes in third world countries, you are actually helping to create jobs for people and not necessarily take away business from local clothing stores and cause loss of income for them. This means that local people can have access to affordable clothes and can focus on using money for more important things they need. Check out the USAgain website to learn more and to find a donation bin near you.

Bird Friendly Coffee

Photo of a bag of Calm Waters Roasters Bird Friendly Coffee next to a coffee mug that says "drop it like it's sloth"    Are you someone who can’t start your morning without a little (or a lot of) coffee to jumpstart your day? Scientists estimate that people around the world drink an average of two billion cups of coffee every day. That’s a lot of coffee! Did you know that the best growing conditions for coffee beans are in the rainforest? This means that every year we are losing more and more of the rainforest as the demand for coffee increases because many farmers will cut down rainforest trees to grow their coffee beans in the sun. Many people don’t know that coffee beans can actually be grown in the shade too. In 2009, the Smithsonian founded the Smithsonian Bird Friendly® certification so that consumers could support farmers that plant their beans under the tree canopy instead of cutting it down. This means less habitat loss for the animals and plants that call the rainforest home.

    When buying Bird Friendly Certified coffee, you are guaranteed coffee that is 100% shade grown and is USDA certified as organic. At the Lehigh Valley Zoo, we recognize the importance of shopping sustainably and partnered with Calm Waters Coffee Roasters based in Bristol, Pennsylvania so that guests can purchase their Bird Friendly Certified coffee right here at the zoo or online through our website! Check out our website to learn more about the Bird Friendly Certification program.


Stock image of a pair of hands cradling planet Earth    No one’s life is insignificant. Every single one of us make choices each day that impact our world and the animals we share it with. Some of those are positive, but unfortunately, some are not. It’s not really feasible to live a life where you don’t create any greenhouse gases or get a gold star for a zero on our carbon footprint chart. What we can do, however, is make small changes where we are able to. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes which you are probably familiar with but truly shows how important it is for us to look at the impact we have: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ~ The Lorax


Written by Tara Mlodzienski
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

   Back to blog posts