Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Circling Vultures

They didn't photograph as well as I hoped
Since it was sunny on the long weekend, my significant other took some time to wash the car. I came out to check out what he was doing. In the still damp and shiny clean back window, I saw the reflection of a mass of black birds circling the house, an scene reminiscent of a horror movie. A nice thermal must have formed above the house as I’m not about to expire any time soon.

Looking up, I saw that each individual had a bald head. Identifying them was easy - they were turkey vultures, common to my area and a bird I’ve been able to identify since I was a kid. There were too many birds to accurately count, my best guess was there was more than thirty.

More vultures joined the group as they shifted their spiral slowly away until the mass was out of sight. This time of year they migrate south in groups. I had no idea they did so in such a large group. Turkey vultures migrate down to southern California or even as far as South America.

There was a time, when I was growing up, I was fascinated by the idea of birding. I’ve never been a serious birder as the hours don’t agree with me and I think going to extremes over a life list of birds can get a little silly, but I still like to identify the birds I see. I scraped together allowance money and bought the ‘Birds of North America’ in the early 80’s. It is still my only bird field guide. Every time I don’t bring my bird book out on a hike with me I see an interesting bird and regret not having my book.

My bird book doesn’t have a lot to say about turkey vultures. It describes them as “ a common carrion eater, scavenging in fields and along road sides.” Carrion eaters have many benefits. According to the The Turkey Vulture Society, these birds prevent spread of disease by cleaning up dead things - no food is wasted in nature. Since they might have to stick their head inside a carcass to get a tasty morsel, being bald means they don’t have to mess up their feathers for a meal.

Turkey vultures don’t make the haunting cry of a hawk, or even the peep of a chick. They have to resort to hisses and grunts as they lack the vocal cords other birds have. I’ve never hears a turkey vulture make a sound. 

As a tangent: I'm always amazed that there is a society for everything.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. I have seen them circling over fields to catch the thermals, but never more than 10 or so at a time.