It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it! Carrion birds, like this Common Raven (Corvus corax), might not be the most attractive creatures on God's green Earth, but they serve a valuable function for the environment, and their specialized features allow them to more efficiently perform their task. For instance, the oversized beak of the raven is a powerful tool for ripping flesh from bone, and the featherless head of the vulture helps maintain good hygiene while feeding on carrion.
Likewise, the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is a smaller version of the raven, with a similarly large beak compared to its body size. Its function as a wilderness sanitation technician is the same.
If Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) seem hideous to you up close, you might wish to consider them from farther away, with their large wingspan that allows them to glide for hours on rising warm air currents while in search of food. They present a spectacular sight as they effortless ride the updrafts.
When all is considered, there is real beauty in the functionality and grace of these majestic birds who perform a necessary cleanup job in a messy world.
Photo credits: Yaroslava Polosina, Ecophoto, Jason Cheever, Michael Woodruff, Steve Byland.