Vulture Boy hung out with me today at the Falls of the Ohio. He’s a bit of an odd character and I don’t see him often. He spends most of the summer observing the resident vultures of both species that live here. He’s studying them. Vulture Boy also thinks of himself as being a bit of a survivalist and when civilization collapses…he will be able to fend for himself by mastering primitive weapons.
He’s still a boy after all and seems to gravitate towards sticks and stones. There must be some primeval aesthetic operating here that’s hard-wired? Regardless, what I enjoy are Vulture Boy’s stories and encounters with the wildlife he sees in the park. He tells me that he saw some Black Vultures feeding nearby and would I like to watch them? I pick up my camera and follow him to the river.
Along the way we surprise two flocks of large birds! It’s another very hot day and both the vultures and Canada geese are taking advantage of the shade under the biggest trees. It’s cooler, but they are also vulnerable standing on the ground. Some passing fisherman got too close and both flocks spooked and went airborne. I could practically feel the whoosh of air pass my face as the vultures struggled to lift skyward.
Reaching the river, we find a few Black Vultures feeding on a fish carcass. They were completely unconcerned about the people around them. I wonder in some way if the vultures recognize the relationship between the people and the availability of fish? Vulture Boy says that they are smarter than you think and adapt to situations that benefit them.
Slowly I move a little closer doing my best not to scare the birds away. It’s tricky though because the rocks are very uneven and slippery in places. With their all black bodies, I wonder if they feel hotter on a day like today? That’s when Vulture Boy lays this factoid on me! He says that Black Vultures (and other vultures as well) can excrete their waste onto their legs to cool them. The process is called “urohydrosis”. Charming!
I asked Vulture Boy what else he liked or thought interesting about these birds and this is what I remember. He said that they form strong pair bonds that are usually only broken upon the death of one of the partners. Additionally, they do not build nests preferring shallow caves or protected rock ledges to raise their young. Although Black Vultures may roost together, they do not like being near each other’s nurseries. There is still that competition for food and a pecking order exists not only within the Black Vulture group, but with other species as well. The shy Turkey Vulture usually surrenders his find to the more aggressive Black Vulture.
With their naked heads and necks…these vultures look more like the dinosaurs they are descended from. The lack of feathers around the head helps keep things a little cleaner. Still, I’m amazed that these birds are able to stomach most anything! I’ve seen Black Vultures using their feet to help leverage a food morsel from the toughest meal.
After watching the river vultures for a few minutes, it was time to go home. Walking back the way we came Vulture Boy and I could see that some of the vultures had returned to the shade under the trees. A few individuals were nervously posted along the outskirts acting as look outs. We walked around them and left them be. Nearby, we came across roosting vultures high in a tree. Occasionally, one of these birds would sun itself by spreading its wings and it seemed almost a reverential act. Or, at least…that’s what I like to think!