Vullture days

Michael Raffety

Belltower 8-8-2016

Each year turkey vultures “nest” in the crevice of a couple of large rocks about 20 feet off the corner of our house. It’s vaguely cave-like. When my son was a youngster, he and the Van Noord boys used to “camp out” there during playtime with an old iron skillet (but no campfire).

Each year they hatch two fledglings. This year it didn’t seem like there were going to be any hatchlings. I wasn’t sure there was there was any vulture romancing going on this year. It seemed like a young couple rather than the usual expert nesters. Last year there was a whole lot of flying around and competition for the affection of one female. This year, not so much.

This year there wasn’t any of that vulture flirtation. So, I was totally surprised to see two fuzzy, fluffy white vulture fledglings on a small lower ledge waiting for their parents to show up with some food to regurgitate.

Within a week they started molting, and hanging out on the big rock. Then they started hanging out in the tree next to our deck, which I thought was a little too close. Then they started pecking around on the dirt that was once a lawn and now is my future Italian piazza. They looked goofy, tugging on a dangling branch of a Chinese pistache tree. They seemed to act like chickens pecking around for bugs. I have to assume they are practicing tearing into some juicy road kill left by the side of the road.

Vultures can smell a carcass from the air, preferring a freshly killed carcass, according to information from Penn State. Also, from Penn State: Their digestive system kills off all pathogens, making heir poop darned near sterile. They mate for life and live about 25 years.

The vulture’s only predators are skunks, raccoons and snakes that will eat the eggs. Last month I watched a coyote wander along my back fence on the uphill neighbor’s property. My deer fence kept him off my side. Once, while walking along the trail between Missouri Flat and Forni Road I watched a coyote try and catch some turkeys, but the turkeys just kept flying out of range.

If the vultures land on my deck I have to shoo them off because they leave white tracks – a result of cooling themselves by peeing on their feet.

Watching them soar around our hill or fly by our living room window is a source of never-ending enchantment.

Vultures are largely silent birds.

Hawks, however, make whistle-like screams as they fly. I don’t know how they expect to sneak up on any ground squirrels, gophers or jackrabbits with all that screaming.

The most startling hawk sighting was a sharp shinned hawk that came screaming out of the woods along my driveway in pursuit of an absolutely terrified bird.

Without even having a bird feeder I have identified 21 birds around our 5 acres of oak woodland and orchard. The only one I haven’t nailed down yet is the hummingbird. I just haven’t seen him long enough to observe the distinguishing markings.

The most unexpected bird was a Brewer’s blackbird, with about a dozen one day looking for seeds in an area where I had whacked down the weeds. These birds are normally found around cattle.

Great blue herons will wait patiently in a field to stab a gopher with their beaks. They will hang out in the field — either mine or mine neighbor down the hill. A couple of month ago I was coming back from picking up the mail and saw a commotion near my neighbor’s garage. It was a hawk trying to steal a meal from a heron. I never heard such squawking. I believe the hawk lost that little battle. He got out-flapped by the great blue heron.


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