Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Turkey vultures are back for the summer.

Just in time, too. Someone needs to start cleaning up the springtime wildlife roadkill! Stretches of rural highways are littered - I mean every 20 feet or so in some areas. Squished wild animals who were so intent on post-hibernation feeding they weren't paying attention. Rabbits, possums, skunks, raccoons, deer, squirrels galore. I saw a poor mangled fox along M15 yesterday. I always hope the ones visible on the roadway were the lucky ones who got killed outright.
A couple of years ago while walking one of the Rottweilers, we passed a rabbit in the ditch. Poor thing was very much alive, but immobilized with a run-over hind end. I started looking for a rock or big stick to dispatch it humanely. However, the dog saw it trying to move, pounced and killed it with one hard bite and vigorous shake. He was so proud, he kept shaking the dead bunny like a rag, growling happily. Morning rush hour traffic in progress, too. You know how people stare nonchalantly in the other direction, pretending they don't see their dog pooping? That was me. "Rottweiler killing a rabbit? What Rottweiler killing a rabbit?"
Anyhow, Turkey Vultures. Last week was warm, and the vultures came back from their winter vacations. I've always enjoyed watching them soaring and drifting high on the thermals - they can smell rotten meat for up to a mile and are one of few birds with a great sense of smell.
They do a marvellous job of cleaning up nasty road kill. Symbiotic relationship there. Vultures have such efficient digestive systems that the dropping are sterile, and they are very clean birds; often bathing in water.
Vultures flock together at night in large groups to roost, usually in large trees. The same roost can be used for decades - even centuries - and a vulture may be using a branch used by its great great great grandmother.
When cornered or threatened, they may projectile-vomit putrid meat at an attacker. Isn't that neat? Also, they can cool themselves off on hot days by defecating on their own legs. How about that.
Three years ago, I was in Costa Rica. I decided to climb this hill near the hotel, then climb the observation tower at the top of the hill, at sunrise. Ascending the tower, I realised there was a flock of vultures roosting on top of the structure. I climbed as quietly as I could and was within 10 feet of the huge birds before they decided to leave. (I was probably lucky I didn't get pooped on, but it would have been sterile. And cool.) With a giant prehistoric whooosh, they soared off past me. I sat on top of the tower and watched them from above, taking off for the days scavenging. Pretty cool. How often does one see vultures from above?
Springtime in Michigan. There's not much at all I like about this state, but I do enjoy the season changes and the wildlife.


Blogger prying1 said...

Glad they didn't do the projectile vomiting thing on you. - Or should that be 'to' you?

I always liked vultures too. Good post.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Katja Kitten said...

Gross.... and fascinating.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Very educational. Thanks.

10:13 PM  

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