People aren’t the only ones enjoying a picnic at Lake Poway lately.
Some visitors to the lake said they have noticed an unusually high number of turkey vultures in the area. At the same time, they say that duck numbers seem to be decreasing and have wondered if the two things are related.
It is common for vultures – especially the turkey vultures at the lake – to be seen as scavengers. Their primary food source is the meat of dead animals. However, the appearance of the large birds does not necessarily mean that something has died nearby.
“Our turkey vultures are more common in the summer because we have a lot of leftover waste from food brought to the area for barbecues and picnics,” said Allie Margis, Lake Poway Recreation Area Manager. “The food goes in the bin and the vultures go in the bin after eating.”
Vultures perform an important environmental function by clearing or consuming carrion so that the dead bodies do not accumulate or spread disease through rotting flesh.
Margis addressed several misconceptions about the turkey vultures at the lake, such as concerns that the ducks are being chased away and ducklings are disappearing.
While it’s true that the ducklings often disappear, it’s not because of the turkey vultures.
“We have a lot of bigmouth bass in the lake and they will often eat the ducklings as they swim in the water,” Margis said. ‘But it’s just the babies; the adult ducks are still there and doing well.”
Because ducks lay eggs all year round, despite the hungry bass, there are often plenty of ducks around.
Another misconception is the number of vultures that call the area home. Some people claim to have seen as many as 50.
Because vultures are so large, people often mistake their numbers, according to Margis, who has worked at the lake for the past seven years.
‘The most I’ve ever seen at one time is eight birds, or maybe ten; I’ve never seen couples of 50 or more,” she said.
Turkey vultures are easily recognizable because of their large size, dark color and bald heads, which resemble the heads of turkeys. The heads are dark colored in immature birds, but red in adults.
They average 2 1/2 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 1/2 feet and usually weigh only about 3 pounds, despite their impressive size.
Margis noted that the large birds often sit near the dam and solved another misconception: They don’t live on the dam or the water.
“Vultures actually live in trees and they move around, not always sleeping in the same trees every night,” she said.
Outside of the breeding season, turkey vultures have been known to nest in rock crevices, ledges, thickets, and abandoned hawk and heron nests.
In addition to the turkey vultures, there are other large birds found near the lake, such as red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, barn owls and “the occasional bald eagle,” Margis said. A few “beautiful” ospreys also live near the lake, she said.
A large number of ducks and other waterfowl also call Lake Poway their home.
“Most ducks are wild, although sometimes there are domestic ducks that drop people off here. However, it is illegal to leave ducks here as pets, and it is also very unsafe for a pet to be dumped in the wild,” Margis said.
She said officials at the lake are contacting the San Diego Humane Society to capture any domestic waterfowl.
Sharp-eyed guests may notice some tame geese on the lake. Margis said those birds come and go, and are believed to be pets living in the area.
Like the vultures, the ducks can also eat things that are not in their own interest.
“People often want to give them bread, but bread is not a safe food for ducks,” Margis said. “But they’re happy to get the duck food available at the concession stands here on the lake.”
There are ways to help turkey vultures find their natural food.
To keep them from diving into the dumpster, Margis recommends keeping the lids on the trash cans, packing whatever you bring with you, and unless you buy the approved duck food, avoid feeding the wildlife.
Lake Poway, at 14644 Lake Poway Road, is open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). Admission is free Monday through Friday, with a $10 non-resident surcharge on weekends. For information, call 858-668-4772 or visit: https://poway.org/401/Lake-Poway.