Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Garbage Collectors from the Sky

Most evenings as I cross the Potomac River I see them lazily wheeling in the distant sky. One, two, a dozen, and seeming to never flap their outstretched six foot wingspan, as they ride on the thermals. They can soar for hours, with their wings in a dihedral (V-shape), waiting for others to join, before feasting on a large fresh roadkill below.

From a distance, Turkey Vultures are graceful and beautiful, with silvery white flight feathers and “finger” tips that add to their splendor. If you are lucky you might come upon one standing high on a perch in a spread-winged stance called the “horaltic pose” looking much like the top of a totem pole. Even though I know they are just drying their wings, warming their bodies and baking off bacteria, it is still hard not to believe they have mythical powers and I should bow my head to honor them. But when I observe more closely and see their wrinkled, red, featherless necks and heads, I’m a little put off. You see, they are designed for practicality not beauty. The bald head keeps the bacteria and unwanted bits of their messy diet from sticking to feathers as they eat. They prefer fairly fresh meat, especially enjoying herbivores and, occasionally, plants.

At almost any given time of day I can look up and spot a “kettle” of them, ever diligent looking and detecting the scent of carrion. The scientific name for the Cathartes aura is Latin for “cleansing breeze” and suits them well. They are scavengers, unpaid and often not appreciated for their invaluable service. Too bad they don’t eat plastic or aluminum cans. I guess we will have to clean that mess up ourselves. So next time you see the garbage collectors from the sky, offer up your thanks and let your thought soar with them for a moment.

Learn more about Turkey Vultures and why they urinate on their legs at the Turkey Vulture Society Web page. http://vulturesociety.homestead.com/

See more ABC Wednesday posts here.


Wanda..... said...

You wrote of Turkey Vultures so well...I share your feelings, they are beautiful and majestic from afar, but a little disconcerting uo close. I witnessed 30 or so circling high above our field just yesterday.

Trillium said...

I love your selection for G. ANother enlightenment on something we see often but don't give much thought to...or thanks for! All nature's creatures play their part.
Great photos, close but not TOO close!

Jane Hards Photography said...

A very different world to mine and not a squirrel or a turkey vulture in sight. I love birds of prey to photograph as a photographer so majestic.

kate said...

Wow, I didn't know they BAKE off bacteria! That's a cool fact to put in the back of my head. -kate

jay said...

I know a lot of people don't like carrion eaters, but they are majestic, and so very useful! Where would we be without them, from turkey vultures to dor beetles and microscopic bacteria?

Roger Owen Green said...

great use of the theme; disturbing, yet necessary.

eileeninmd said...

Nice post about the vultures. Did you know today is the International Vultures Awareness day.

ramblingwoods said...

You are lucky to see so many of them. I usually see more in migration and sometimes driving along the highway... They do have a different kind of beauty.... Michelle

squirrel said...

Wanda, 30 is a lot to see at one time. I wonder if you have a roost nearby.

Trillium & Roger, thanks for the compliment.

Babooshka, I will have to stop by your blog to see your photos.

kate, your welcome. I love these little bits of nature trivia.

jay, I agree. Those beetles are workhorses as well. Very interesting critters.

eileen, WOW I had no idea is was International Vultures Awareness day! The vultures must be speaking to me.

Michelle, yes they are pretty. One of my friends thought I should have written about the Black Vultures because they are prettier.