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The buzzards are back, and they brought friends

April 13, 2011

From early spring through late fall last year, the view from my north-facing picture window included some familiar friends each morning and evening: turkey vultures.

Just over a dozen of the winged creatures had chosen to roost in some trees a few blocks away from my house. I would see them gliding through the sky as they left or returned to their roost each day.

This year, the vultures brought some buddies back from their seasonal trip south. Here is the view over my house yesterday afternoon:

I'm not dead yet! Why are you circling over my house?

I counted 44 birds in this image, and there was another group of about 30 birds to the northeast.


From what I understand, turkey vultures will keep returning to the same roost year after year.

I enjoy watching them wheel through the sky, but I am glad they are not roosting in my yard. (I admit to NIMBYism when it comes to masses of vultures.)

Now, some people think turkey vultures are disgusting (yes, they urinate on their own legs, to cool themselves off and to kill bacteria they may have picked up from standing on rotting carcasses), but if you consider they role they play in the ecosystem, you really need to tack on the adjective “amazing” as well.

Just think about the nastiness they are able to eat without getting sick! Here is a summary of how they are able to do that.

If not for the vultures, there would be a lot more putrescent carcasses hanging around out there in the environment.

India got a taste of life without vultures after a cheap anti-inflammatory drug used as a last-ditch effort to treat sick cattle killed off vultures en masse. Many of the cattle dosed with the drug were so sick that they died anyway. When the vultures feasted on the drug-laced carcass, they died from kidney failure. The vultures’ systems could handle a barrage of bacteria, but not this particular drug.

As a result, carcasses piled up around the country, which led to an associated health threat to humans. The feral dog population climbed as a result of the increased food supply, and the transmission of rabies from dogs to humans increased.

Here’s a 2006 NYT article about the situation.

I missed seeing the birds this morning, but I’ll probably catch them this evening and swat a high-five towards their flight path.

Yaaaay, vultures!

(Even Snoopy knows the coolness of vultures, even if he sometimes doesn’t get it quite right – too bad the sound and vid are out of sync on this clip.)

Copyright 2011 by Katie Bradshaw

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rick Myers permalink
    April 13, 2011 9:48 am

    We had the same flock in Gering several years ago. A wonderful sight from our kitchen window as they swooped low over our house and ultimately landed in trees two blocks east of us. However, the neighbors did not like their behavior and ultimately got permission from the city to bring in a federal officer to shoot the vultures and drive them from the city. They left a couple of carcasses in the tree to ward off returning vultures. Rather sad and disgusting! We have seen a couple this years checking out the neighborhood. I appreciate our neighbor’s disgust when they found partial snakes and other remnants of the feathered friend. Still, I enjoy watching them play in the updrafts and wind currents.

  2. April 13, 2011 11:08 am

    Wonder what started their roosting in the tree nearby?

  3. April 13, 2011 12:16 pm

    Great post, Katie. Thanks for showing a way to look beyond the superficial “yuck” reaction we sometimes have, and for pointing out how beneficial carrion feeders are. We have a flock in our neighborhood too. I counted 35 the other evening. We also had a one-legged turkey vulture hanging around the ranch a couple of years ago. It was impressive, at least to me, to watch the bird go about its daily life successfully even though it was profoundly injured or deformed. I’ll forward a couple of pics or else try to squeeze out a blog post on the subject.

  4. Michele Arnold permalink
    April 13, 2011 12:47 pm

    I figured they were targeting ME as I ran the Avenues. I must look near-death!

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      April 14, 2011 6:01 am

      Hate to tell you this, Michele, but vultures seek food by smell, not sight.

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