Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Volley of Vultures

Okay, I just totally made that up; I have no idea what a group of vultures is called but "volley of vultures" had a nice ring to it.

Yesterday one of our neighbors warned me of a hawk that flew into the live oak tree right behind Patches and I while we were on one of our walks. Since hawks have been known to pick off a cat for a meal I watched the hawk carefully until he decided that I wasn't going to leave Patches's side and he flew off. He was a gorgeous bird and of course I was without my camera at the time. I just don't learn. As Patches and I continued our walk I was a bit more cautious than usual but what soars overhead here casting huge shadows are the turkey vultures which aren't a threat.
Turkey vultures, named for their similar appearance to wild turkeys, are mostly carrion eaters that locate their food through a highly developed sense of smell. Their ugly, naked looking heads have developed so that when the birds dig deep into a carcass of a dead animal to feed they won't get a bunch of pieces of meat and bacteria sticking to the feathers on their heads. The vultures urinate on their own legs to cool themselves off in hot weather plus the urine also kills any bacteria on their feet from bracing the carrion while they feed. Vultures don't have the capability of song; they can only grunt or hiss. They have been known to vomit as a protective measure when threatened while nesting. All of which makes this bird seem like a nasty creature.
This vulture spreads his wings to warm himself, bake off bits of bacteria carrying food and to dry his wings after a period of rain or a heavy morning dew.

But to watch one of these large (with a wing span of six feet) birds soar up into a high spiral in the sky with their silver-gray underfeathers glinting in the sun is something else. Vultures don't leave their night time perch until the morning air warms up a bit. What they do next is find a pocket of warm air called a thermal and ride it up high into the sky and glide through the air by very slight movements of their wing tips. Circling higher and higher a vulture will then dive down to find the next thermal pocket, reaching speeds up to 60 mph in their dive. They can actually ride an air current for as long as six hours without ever flapping their wings.Certainly the vulture isn't an attractive creature on the ground, but he is beautiful in the air. And I'll never have to worry about one carrying off the cat.


meowmomma said...

Lovely, just lovely! lol

I mostly knew that stuff, but there's just nothing like having it all pointed out in black and white... thanks so much for, um, sharing it!!!


what a great vulture tour!!!..a volley great day!!

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