Friday, January 23, 2009

Beautiful, Beautiful Buzzards

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," your premiere outlet for vulture worship on the World Wide Web! Where would we be, I ask you, without vultures? Consider the plight of India, where steroid use in cattle has decimated the vulture population. In its place there's been an explosion of feral dogs -- and decaying carcasses, including the enlightened Farsis who dedicate their mortal remains to the sky.

One of my most pleasant memories of recent weeks is the afternoon when my daughter the Heir and I went buzzarding. It was her suggestion, because she wanted to see me happy.

How does one buzzard? (I've made up my own verb! Cool, huh?)

In the hamlet of Wenonah, New Jersey, there are clusters of tall pines in peoples' backyards. The countryside around Wenonah has been slash-and-burn developed in recent years, but there's still an active landfill in the area.

Every evening beginning about an hour before sundown, vultures by the dozens descend upon the pines of Wenonah in that inimitable vulturous way, soaring in with nary a wing flap, then suddenly alighting in a tree. Eventually the trees become packed with buzzards, all jostling one another for the best roosting limbs. Kind of like an extra large Christmas tree decorated with big black birds, all moving around restlessly.

I suppose most people would not find this entrancing, but I do.

For the first time on this particular buzzarding expedition, the Heir and I actually heard the buzzards making sounds. Vocalization is not something vultures are known for. Nightingales they are not. But when they've got a claw around a good roosting branch, and another of their kind challenges them for it, they emit a noise that's like a combination of a hiss and a quack. I've never heard anything quite like it. I tried to duplicate it with my vocal chords but couldn't. And I can caw like a crow -- and get the crows to respond.

We all must strive to improve ourselves as we pass through life, never stopping and heaving a sigh of satisfaction at the status quo. I am therefore dedicating myself to learning the vulture vocalization.

So if you're in my neighborhood, and you hear somthing hissing, it's probably me. If you hear a bagpipe, that's the dude in the next block who is not allowed to practice his instrument in the house.

This is the time of year when I begin my vulture posts in anticipation of the blessed East Coast Vulture Festival. It is held in Wenonah, New Jersey. No leap of logic in that.

Remember to keep the Sacred Thunderbirds in your hearts and souls, dear readers. They are Mother Nature's golden purifiers.

Want to learn more? Our operators are standing by to take your call.


yellowdog granny said...

ahh, buzzards..the garbage disposals of the world.

A Wild Celtic Rose said...

I used to work on the Los Padres National Forest; the land of the California Condor.

I remember when those big beautiful birds used to fly freely. They were such and impresive sight to behold (in flight, not so much when they were trying to take off with full bellies)

Saldy, the powers that be decided that they ALL (even those too old to breed) had to be removed from the wilderness to be raised in captivity to "save" the species (let's just call it forced extinction)

It was a sad and terrible thing to be around for.

I can neither confirm nor deny that someone may have bought the last condor (and old male, past breeding age) a few more weeks of soaring above his hills and valleys.

Many years later, when I was a ranger at Canyonlands National Park, I received an odd radio call from a ranger at Arches (Moab area of Utah)

As it turns out, one of the California Condors who had been released in the Vermillion Cliffs area of the Grand Canyon, decided to take a little trip up the Colorado River to say hello.

There is the sky, was one of my beloved condors (or one of thier offspring)

I'm going backpacking in the Grand Canyon in April, perhaps I will see them again.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk a bit about my long lost feathered friends.

Lee said...

I recently saw four vultures in my parents' wooded backyard. My mother mentioned that she had not seen them there until the previous several days. As we watched the birds (amazing and almost prehistoric) I looked at the creek bed below for a food source. And found a deer, almost fully stripped to the bone. Sure enough, my mother reported the birds gone within a few days. We can embrace the cycle and work to sustain it.

Sarita said...

We don't have vultures around where I live, unless you count hungry teens around a snack table. From videos I've seen of them (the vultures, not the teens) they look like they must be beautiful in flight.

We do have bagpipers, though, one of whom I live with! He usually practices in the garage, or outdoors in nice weather, but when it's too darn cold we do let him practice in the house. ;)

Lavanah said...

We have vultures. Sometimes they roost in the trees of my yard. As amazing as they are to watch flying, I wish they would roost elsewhere. Its not the sound, its the smell-they smell like the carrion they eat. And, when it is really cold, they perch on the stack vent of my house, down which, their droppings fall and solidfy like cement. On the other hand, you have to respect a bird that will challange a car for the right to some roadkill, as 1 bird challanged me (in my car). I drove around the bird.

Anne Johnson said...

Lavanah, I've heard that they smell bad. Never been close enough to a wild one to sniff it. I know they like to bathe in the summertime.

Thalia Took said...

Last year I was standing in my back yard, quietly leaning against a stone wall, hanging out with and minding the cat. A turkey vulture silently dropped out of the tree behind me and sailed low off into the woods. His/her wingtip missed my shoulder by a couple of inches.

Okay, I told little, morselly Maude, we're going in now.

ann-claire said...

We've got buzzards out the wazoo. We've also had more miscellaneous raptors this year--which is why I wanted the "how to tell them apart in the air" lesson.
Thanks for the tip about the hissing. My eyesight is not always fabulous, but I can tell many birds by their songs/calls.