Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I "heart" vultures

So, when vultures gather is it called a flock, a gang, a coven? Whatever; there are lots of them down here. There is a cell tower across the street from our house that serves as buzzard headquarters. A dozen or more extremely large turkey vultures perch on various rungs of the tower and rooftop of the building below.

Yesterday I was on the upper terrace taking in the view when I saw one flying overhead with a snake in its talons. Where was my camera then?!! You see things here on the casual--things you'd normally see only on Wild Kingdom or National Geographic. I notice the birds most because so many here are of the predatory and opportunistic nature. No songbirds or robins here, but clever, menacing birds like crows and hawks, buzzards, owls, and woodpeckers. Even the roadrunners look scary to me for their great size and surprisingly speedy stride. Their legs seem to operate independently of their bodies. They have the air of the unnatural. Birds in a hurry are supposed to fly, but these strange birds scurry. To me, roadrunners are like feathered rodents.

But the vultures for obvious reasons are the creepiest. They are large, dark, ugly. They are too watchful for my comfort. Always perched up high surveying the earth's surface, waiting, waiting. Yeah, I know for what--something to die. Ick. This afternoon I was trying to round up Betsy after she slipped through the gate and watched her run below the perch of a extra super large vulture and begin barking at it. The scene was cartoonish: The dark, beastly creature with its beak pushed to its breast peering down at my naive little pedigree spaniel. For a tense moment I half-expected the bird to rush down and sweep my little dog away.

Although I'm certain I am misinformed--vultures are probably gentle and misunderstood creatures providing a necessary service as the clean-up crew. I am playing to the unfortunate stereotype about the creepiness of the poor vulture. A little crash course in the largest of carrion birds would help dispel my intuitive fears and put me on the correct track. Excuse me while I take a moment to Google turkey vulture.

I'm back. Yes, just as I expected-- vultures are good and many people are worried about them as witnessed by the existence of organizations like: Vulture Rescue and Turkey Vulture Society! Did you know that the white-back and slender-billed vulture of Nepal is endangered? As well as the long-billed vultures of India? And yes, vultures do the important work of cleaning up the garbage, i.e., dead critters and road kill. Actually the turkey vulture population in the U.S. is on the rise acccording the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Seems like there's an abundance of road-kill. Vultures can thank speeding motorists for the good eats.

Still..none of that changes the fact that these corpse-eaters with a 6-foot wingspan are undeniably creepy. Here's a fact: vultures urinate on their legs to cleanse away bacteria. Here's another: vultures have bald heads so they can thrust them into the mess of a dead carcass without mussing any feathers. Ick.

There is one gentle bird I neglected to mention. The hummingbird. I know they're on the Baja Peninsula cuz I saw some around a hibiscus shrub at the hotel. Tomorrow I will purchase a feeder and do my part to promote the... wait while I Google... oh, yes, the Xantus hummingbird. Red bill, green throat, cinnamon tail, white stripe above eye. A kinder, gentler bird minus the creepiness factor.

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