Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vultures (with feathers)

A couple of turkey vultures were arguing over a possum carcass in the road a few houses along. There was a lot of commotion and clashing of wings before they sorted it out, and then a car drove one off, leaving the feast to the other. I walked over to what was left of the possum (be glad you didn't smell it), which caused me to wonder whether vultures, like raptors, have exceptional eyesight, or whether they have exceptional smell -- or both. Questions, questions.

If you live in suburban South Florida (and assuming you even notice them), you probably like seeing vultures wheeling around the sky. Vultures, turkey vultures specifically, are harbingers of the fall; they arrive from somewhere in the Midwest or Northeast in the first week of October, bringing with them the blessed promise of cooler weather. Except in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, I don't think it's ever cooled down before the "buzzards" show up.

The occasion used to be celebrated annually on the steps of the courthouse in downtown Miami, which is where dozens choose to roost at night. As tall buildings went up around the courthouse, the vultures roosted there, too. The Herald wrote a story about very expensive lawyers in very expensive penthouse offices not appreciating vultures resting outside and spoiling their otherwise very expensive view. Oh, the irony!

If you do look up, watch these masters of flight as they ride thermals and glide across the sky with the rarest flap of a wing. On the ground, though, it's another matter. These huge birds, ungainly as they are ugly, are positively comical as they lumber along the ground preparing for takeoff. Sadly, this is when the vultures themselves become road kill.


patrick said...

Ah the smell of 'Possum in the morning...

Penny McCrea said...

It's even better in the late afternoon.