Black Vultures came avisiting.

Black vulture

Around noon today I was out in the back garden.  I heard a lot of splashing about.  I looked up and saw three of these things taking turns in one of SWMBO's fountains.  They looked exactly like this photograph and were about two feet tall.  They observed me for a bit and then flew up to a fence near the fountain where they perched side by side and peered about.  They looked slightly confused.  The white legs are very distinctive.  My wife came out of the house to take pictures of them on the fence.  She approached to within ten feet before they became flustered and flew into a tall tree in the next dor neighbor's yard.  They sat in a row high up and squabbled with each other for a while before flying away.  They are clearly immature.

Twenty years ago I had an office on the tope floor of an office building in Clarendon (Arlington).  A pair of big turkey vultures used the roof as a perch and observation post to survey the streets. They had red heads and were about four feet tall.  I often tapped on the plate glass wall that looked out on the sloping metal roof.  When I did that one would sidle up to the glass and peer in at me.  These are not pretty birds.  pl

This entry was posted in Whatever. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Black Vultures came avisiting.

  1. Imagine says:

    Vultures have evolved heads w/o feathers so they can stick them inside decaying animals without their heads getting covered in decay.
    Both vultures and komodo dragons, who also eat carrion, are particularly immune to disease. Biologists are analyzing their blood in hopes of finding new antibiotics.
    I don’t know why the different head color schemes–red, black, golden for the King vultures. Also I don’t know why the black wings–you’d think black would be for absorbing energy, but vultures are found in hot territory. Why don’t they get too hot as they’re soaring, wings outstretched like solar collectors?

  2. SAC Brat says:

    Not a bird I like but I do admire how they will work together down here in Georgia to drag roadkill off the road so they can eat interrupted by traffic.
    When carcasses are on the road often one bird in a group will be indecisive when traffic is approaching and get hit while trying to take off. Xin loi.
    My favorite birds to watch are hawks above pastures nearby and I really like watching them when they see a target and get down to business. The cardinal families are fun to identify and watch too at our back porch feeder.

  3. Bobo says:

    I always found the Tirkey Vultures to be vey efficient in cleaning up the small road kill on back roads. When flying/soaring with full wing span a very beautiful bird till it lands and you get a close look. Interesting that it is federally protected, not sure I understand why as they seem quite abundant in the Southeast. A friend tells the story of his neighbor who flies the dawn and dusk patrol up and down the local river that he swears by these buzzards as they direct him to the floaters much quicker than anything else.
    Suggest hitting them with the water hose as you don’t want them around the yard as they make a mess.

  4. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Care to tell us what SWMBO stands for?
    I know what google says it stands for, but you may have your own meaning.

  5. turcopolier says:

    She Who Must Be Obeyed. SWMBO (my bride). pl

  6. SAC Brat says:

    Uninterrupted. My kids were pestering me with computer/Microsoft problems.

  7. rexl says:

    Two quick stories, first, in San Diego the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park used to get all the animals that died at the S.D. Zoo. On the roof of the Museum there were ten or twelve vultures in cages to finish taking the meat off the bones, without breaking the bones. Second, we live half the year in Ennis, Montana, and across the street from us are four or five large fir trees, turkey vultures nest in these trees every night. If not in these trees then in the ones behind us, just across the alley.

  8. Cortes says:

    I knew them as zopilotes in Mexico:
    Fascinating that they’re now in ¿VA?

  9. mike says:

    Spent a half hour today watching pelicans and caspian terns dive bombing the water for sardines. They were harassed by the vultures of the sea, the gulls, trying to steal their lunch. Against the terns they met with some success. But the pelicans stood fast, hard to pickpocket their pouch I guess. Maybe the gulls were just hoping for some backwash.

  10. J says:

    Turkey Vultures, have them here in our Oklahoma farm wilderness. If there are 3 or more together, I start using caution. They’re not something to be played with. Make great disease control, and keep the natural litter cleaned up.
    I’ve always had respect for them and the coyotes, as they help keep the diseases at bay. I’ve both transiting my square of Heaven every day, I leave them alone and they leave me alone. If I loose a calf, I drag it off into the wilderness area and the coyotes and vultures feast on the dead, leaving the living alone.
    God’s great balance in things.

  11. DH says:

    About 25 years ago in central Virginia a young woman was abducted and killed when her car broke down. After her body was found her father said, thank God for vultures.

  12. A. Pols says:

    its a takeoff from H. Rider Haggard’s adventure stories of the late 1800s entitled “She” about a savage tribe ruled by a mysterious white Queen..”She who must be obeyed”. The story was replete with accounts of those who failed to obey and what became of them.
    I read his stuff as a boy back in the fifties and the term has stuck.

  13. TonyL says:

    Similar to Tibetan monks sky burial.

  14. turcopolier says:

    A. Pols
    Thanks for the explanation. Do you suppose Rumpole had read Haggard? pl

  15. Eric Newhill says:

    When I worked for the bureau of land management I escorted some biologists to a site where I knew turkey vultures roosted. They wanted to capture vultures for some esoteric reason I have long forgotten. I sat comfortably watching in the shade of a cottonwood tree while they set up their space age trap. This was a big net, maybe 40 feet in diameter, with rocket boosters at 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees. I had suggested setting a simple trap using a bait carcass + snare design, but they dismissed my idea with palpable disdain. I now tried to discern in what manner and form Murphy’s law would make it’s inevitable intrusion.
    The was low over the mountains when the first 5 or 6 vultures arrived home to roost and the trap was sprung. The rockets fired more or less together and the net began its ascent, slowly, then slightly less slowly like a massive sinewy jelly fish, wobbling almost gracefully to 30 feet in the air, then a little more. With equal wobbly near grace the vultures began their escape up from the tree. The net appeared to gain on them for a moment. Just a moment. An unlikely ungainly object challenging, briefly, an unlikely ungainly bird. But the rockets had achieved peak thrust too soon and just as they started to fade the vultures got their rhythm and made their way to freedom. Up went the vultures and down went the net with sputtering smoking rockets.
    This was basically repeated three more times.
    Maybe you had to be there, but I can’t see vultures to this day without chuckling over that incident (almost 30 years ago).

  16. Cortes says:

    My guess is definitely, Sir.

  17. Cortes says:

    An age thing, actually. Factor in the short essay by G McD Fraser to his wildly successful “Flashman” novels about the heroes of British imperialism in the XIX Century and a taste of the dominant narrative can be observed. Perhaps like Iwo Jima?

  18. Jack says:

    And the Zoroastrians. Unfortunately their religion will become practically extinct in a few generations as there are only around 60K of them in western India and half that number in central Iran. Their birth/death ratio in India is 1:5.

  19. turcopolier says:

    Like Iwo Jima? Perhaps you should go back to Mexico. You are not here yet. pl

  20. turcopolier says:

    Rumpole is a fictional character. pl

  21. Thirdeye says:

    Ravens are the most road wise birds I can think of. One time I was driving north from the San Francisco Bay Area on 101 early in the morning, before much traffic was on the road. Wherever there was road kill there were ravens feeding in twos and threes. They knew exactly what the situation was with my approaching car. They didn’t waste any energy flying, they just hopped to the other side of the shoulder line until the interruption was over. That got me thinking of another drive I took along that same route when there were five deer carcasses on the road. The conceptual world of the raven is far advanced over that of the deer.

  22. different clue says:

    I lived till age 15 in Knoxvilled, Tennessee and did birdwatching there from age 10 or so upward. Black vultures were always about a third as common as turkey vultures there. I remember the one place where I could expect to see fair numbers of black vultures in among the bunches of turkey vultures was in Cades Cove.
    Some years later, when living in Cortland, New York, I saw a black vulture soaring overhead; displaying its various obvious differences from the turkey vulture when seen soaring overhead. It was way farther north then expectable, but the senior bird people had to accept the possibility. A black vulture was accepted to have been seen at Derby Hill that same year.

  23. Bill H says:

    “These are not pretty birds.” I cannot really disagree, and yet…
    Nature is endlessly fascinating, and has a beauty all of its own. We had a cat who was as affectionate and gentle as could be at home, but when we took him to the vet he turned into a nightmare. As soon as they opened the carrier he went into killer mode; ears back, teeth displayed, hissing and snarling. It upset SWMBO enormously, but I rather enjoyed the display of just what a beautifully designed killer the feline animal is.
    Needless to say, the vet enjoyed it a whole lot less than I did.

  24. Kooshy says:

    Colonel, are those the same Vultures hovering over our constitutional government, in your neck of the woods, around the beltway, if so please shoot them down.

  25. jpb says:

    I owned a farm on the Dumas, Missouri side of the Des Moines River in the 1980’s. There was a towering sycamore tree on banks of the river fertilized by several feet of buzzard shit. The buzzard tree was roost for thirty or forty turkey buzzards.
    At dawn the buzzards flapped up till they caught the morning thermals. They glided in different directions, searching the surrounding counties for gut shot deer and diseased cattle. They returned each evening, spiraling down in a vortex of buzzards.
    I will never forget the sight of the daily cycle of the turkey buzzard vortex on the banks of the Des Moines River.

  26. A. Pols says:

    I live in A rural area outside of Charlottesville with a pasture extending about 400 feet from house to a road. The area abounds in deer and they are frequently hit by cars and end up in my pasture. From time to time one is merely crippled and I end up having to do the needful thing for them, but from where I sit I am given a front row seat on a scene from the Serengeti as several dozen Buzzards get to work. I find it fascinating to watch. Though movie portrayals add in various squawks and other bird sounds, they are entirely silent. The only sound is from the indignant crows who wait for the leftovers..
    They’re not pretty birds, but their flight is. On winter mornings they may line the branches of a big oak and silently spread their wings to face the rising sun to warm themselves up after a cold night. They remind me of prehistoric creatures like Pterodactyls when they do that.

  27. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Colonel, Keith Harbaugh,
    The first usage of SWMBO which I encountered was in the old lost world adventure story by H. Rider Haggard, She. The title character was a woman who had found the secret of immortality, and was always referred to by her subject population as She Who Must Be Obeyed (she had ways to compel obedience…), and she ran her little kingdom with an iron hand. SWMBO, indeed.
    And then, years later, I encountered the same formula issuing from the mouth of the barrister, Rumpole (of the Bailey). Even that old curmudgeon, knowing what was good for him, complied without demur with his wife’s “suggetions”.

  28. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    A. Pols, Colonel, Cortes,
    I posted my own version of this explanation prior to seeing yours, complete with the Rumpole reference. Still have my H. Rider Haggard books from back in the day, and fondly recall Rumpole, as well.
    Loved those fantasy books (and SciFi); writers such as William Morris, James Branch Cabell (a Virginia Cavalier if I am not mistaken) were among them, right off the top of my head. Have to revisit those books… I could do so sitting in a chair of William Morris’ design, the eponymous Morris chair, while doing so, and with reproductions of a couple of his tapestries over my shoulder. Morris was a real polymath of design, the decorative arts, a printer/typographer (his Kelmscott Press printed some stunning editions), an author, and no mean scholar, even travelling to Iceland to immerse himself in the sagas.
    Enough with my indulgent prattle. Good day, gentlemen.

  29. Lefty says:

    For many years there were several turkey vultures (red heads) that kept my farm in central Virginia cleaned up. They were nice guys, and I expect generations of the same family. To watch them soar was sometimes enough to make me wish I was a buzzard.
    Back around 2000 the black headed ones slowly invaded the territory and now there are very few of the red heads left. The black heads are generally larger, considerably more aggressive and do not soar nearly as nicely.
    OTOH, the resurgence of eagles has been amazing. Seems it will not be too long before we begin regarding them as pests. Opportunists that they are it is common to find them mixed in with the buzzards dining on road kill.

  30. Farmer Don says:

    Maybe these birds are normal down there, but if these two came to the farm and settled down to watch me and my better half, we’d be off to the city to check our life insurance.

  31. ISL says:

    Kooshy, these vultures are an important and beneficial part of nature. Those vultures……

  32. mike says:

    JJ –
    My recollections are that Rumpole only let SWMBO think he was complying. Great series! I wonder if it is still available somewhere?

  33. Jill says:

    You can buy the entire series and many, if not most, episodes are on Youtube.

  34. Tidewater says:

    Tidewater comments,
    Those birds get freaky during sex. I was driving by a little spot called Meggett on a deserted road going into Hollywood, S.C., thinking about nothing in particular, when I noticed a couple of them thrashing around in the ditch up ahead of me. When I passed them there was a thump on the side of the car and the next second there were the two of them in a ghastly frenzy of black wings most of the way inside my right front window. It was like they were stuck together, were beginning to get stuck inside my car, couldn’t get out, and all three of us were astounded. I jammed on the brakes and that seemed to break them loose, not that I thought that it would. I just wanted out of the car. So then they were gone. I didn’t even have time to be much relieved or much bothered. But I noticed they left behind a nasty stink in the car.
    They perch on the trash compactor at the Charleston County garbage drop-off I go to on the island, and do not necessarily move when you drive up. It doesn’t bother me, though I do not forget Melville about seabirds…And I equate them with the hogs in Ambrose Bierce’s story about the wounded. When the new Center Market was opened in Charleston in 1807 on Market Street they were a familiar feature of the place for the next century. Butchers fed them offal and scraps. When a slaughter-house was finally built outside of town they moved out there. There was a fine of five dollars for messing with them. Charlestonians called them ‘Br’er Buzzard.” We used to call big turkey buzzards (I think they were) “Fish hawks” when I was growing up at Deltaville, at the mouth of the Piankatank, but they are different from these vultures, who have gray in their wings, by the way. The thing that I wonder about is that they are said to love roof sealant, roof caulking, and maybe silicone. Could a flock of them strip a roof down to its bare bones like in that zoo? Now that is really horrible.

  35. Lurker says:

    These vultures mate for life. Thus, if you kill one (sometimes they must be killed and I will further explain why) you must kill the partner too, otherwise they could loiter the scene for as long as they live. Although they are protected by law with hefty fines and possibly prison time, both the black and red headed may become dangerous to air navigation particularly in the approaches to airports and runways. If you are a marksman or a sniper, you might be asked to neutralize the threat. The bird has to be hit in the heart otherwise it could still fly while wounded and get into the plane’s turbine. When hit in the heart they come down vertically. The bird can potentially bring down a jumbo jet. IATA Airport Safety requires bird control. Bird control includes canon fire but not lasers because lasers affect the pilots vision. Carrion and dumpsters anywhere near a runway or airport is a big problem. Migratory birds are another problem but there is less you can do to control these. The turkey vulture has a code of honour. They don’t eat each other carrion.

  36. turcopolier says:

    I have a persistant small leak near the base of the chimney, Buzzards? Hmm. In Alexandria we have all three kinds of buzzards; Turkey, Black and Yankee. pl

  37. dilbert dogbert says:

    I read “She” as a 5 or 6th grader when my mom inherited a box of books. Included were a bunch of Tarzan and Red Planet and late Mark Twain.
    Books to warp a young boys brain.
    Check out Leo McKern:

  38. mike says:


  39. optimax says:

    The first Sunday after March 15th is Buzzard Sunday in Hinckley, Ohio. That is the time every year when the Turkey Vultures return to Hinckley.
    Local lore has it that the buzzards started showing up after the Great Hinkley Hunt in 1818. The local farmers decided to rid the area of the bears and wolves that where reeking havoc on their livestock, so they arranged to mass 500 hunters from the surrounding area on the edges of the township for the hunt. At a prearranged signal the men closed the circle, firing and killing every living thing in sight, even cute little bunny rabbits. It took all day. The people feasted well that night and got meat drunk, it sounds like.
    But a recently discovered manuscript mentions that the first white settlers noticed the buzzards flying around a gallows where the Wyondots had hanged a witch. That was in 1810.

  40. Imagine says:

    G.E. Engines are designed to be able to chew up a goose and spit it out, with no damage to the turbine blades. The final “chicken test” for an engine design is to throw in a supermarket chicken and make sure nothing shatters. If a plane engine can be brought down by a vulture, that plane engine is out of spec and unsafe. Sounds like someone is being over-protective.

Comments are closed.