|Turkey vultures can have a wingspan up to six feet.|
Their wings usually appear two-toned from below.
I peered between their alert ears expecting to see a brown towhee on the windowsill or one of the spotted fawns draining the birdbath again. Nothing moving in the backyard. When I flipped open a blind slat, I startled a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) on the garage roof directly outside the window. As it dropped behind the roof line, I caught a brief glimpse of something hanging from its beak, round with a stem hanging down. A leaf? Or perhaps a mouse. That explained the cats' complaint at seeing a scavenger steal their snack.
When people see vultures circling overhead, someone usually makes a joke about a companion's sickly or deathly appearance. Our emotional response is more uneasy when we see vultures up close and down to our earth. Vultures hunched together in a tree or gathering on the side of a road remind us of their ominous habit of eating the dead.
| Vultures spread their feathers like fingers to reduce wingtip turbulence and lower their stalling speed|
so they can stay aloft at a lower speed (Ehrlich et al.)
I had never seen a vulture on the garage before, so I headed outside to investigate. I was surprised to find seven vultures on the barn. What was going on?
On summer afternoons when I am working in the farmyard, I often see large shadows circling my project and then I know the local vulture gang is coming in for a drink. First, they reconnoiter from on high. Then, if I and the cows are a safe distance away, they descend in lazy loops to land in the corral, and hop across the grass and up onto the metal lip of the watering trough. A few are skilled enough to tap down onto the nearby barbwire fence and drop directly onto the trough. Then commences 15 minutes of silent jostling for position, much wing flapping, and dipping of their scrawny necks into the water. Eventually, each turns its naked head downhill, pauses as if to say a post-drink grace, and in ones and twos they leap off the trough with air-hungry wings to barely clear the barbwire fence on the opposite side of the corral and glide down Peter's Creek canyon.
Why were the vultures on the barn? Was there a carcass nearby or had a lax breeze dumped them on the rooftops? Oddly that morning, I hadn't seen the L11 doe or her two fawns on their regular routine to scarf down one of their favorite summertime victuals - the brown leaves dropped in the yard by the summer-deciduous buckeye trees. I started searching the farmyard for a dead body. My searching made the vultures nervous. Soon they spread their wings to test for a breeze and clumsily flapped a short distance to the fence posts along the driveway.
|Up close, the adult turkey vulture's plumage is black with brown iridescent tones.|
|The adult turkey vulture's head is red and its bill is yellowish. They have a feathery black ruff on their neck. Vultures' heads are bare of feathers to avoid getting too messy when they scavenge inside a rotten carcass.|
|Juvenile turkey vultures have white edges on their feathers.|
|Juvenile turkey vultures still have grey down feathers on their head and their bills are also grey.|
Even though I often stand still with swaying binoculars or even lie down on the ground to watch their mesmerizing flight, I'm sure the local vultures see me hiking across the ranch often enough to know that I am not dead. For now, in absence of a carcass, I have decided the vultures have become accustomed to me watching them, a vulture groupie, and they just want to hang out.
This vulture quest to continue over the next week or so with: Vultures and Migration, A Black Florida Vulture Adventure, and Vultures and Death.
Hawks in Flight, Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton.