On Turkey Vultures

Oct 5, 2015 by

I watched the turkey vulture swerve and bank over Highway 35, and thought of my friend who cringed when I recently mentioned that species. I had forgotten, until then, that her reaction is quite common.

I imagine it’s that bald red head, looking as if it had just emerged from the bloodied mass of a carcass (it may have). Or the silhouette against the sky of sharp wings that appear torn and scraggly. A living, breathing, soaring symbol of death and decay.

But I was surprised when I got to know a couple of turkey vulture teenagers at a wildlife rehabilitation center. It’s true—up close they still aren’t beautiful. But the first time I encountered them, I was touched to realize they were shy and not the slightest bit aggressive. In fact, they scampered away as I brought their meal of dead rodents into their enclosure.

In time, they grew to accept my presence but stayed cautious. That’s their innate personality; raptor experts know them to be gentle, but elusive birds. Their only real defense is to vomit a lump of foul-smelling, semi-digested meat, which deters most creatures.

Fortunately, the teenagers at the rehab center were never threatened enough by me to do that, but I’m glad they always remained wary.

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