Black Vulture

Photo copyright Mike Lubchenko.

I think I may know your reaction when you read the word, “Vulture.” It’s probably something like, “Ugh! Ick! They’re so ugly!” But today I invite you to pause a moment while I offer a slightly broader view of these large and important birds. Vultures perform a vital service to humans and other species: they clean our fields, forests and roadsides of the dead bodies of other animals. For a truly “icky” thought, consider what we’d be surrounded by if the vultures were not doing their thankless job! Fittingly, the scientific name of their Family is “Cathartidae,” taken from the Greek for “purifier.”

Two vulture species are found in Angle Fly Preserve. You may have seen them soaring overhead or perched in the tops of tall, leafless trees. Perhaps you recognize the Turkey Vultures with their featherless, red-skinned heads. They are by far the more common. However the proud-looking fellow in this photograph is the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), which is more unusual in our area. Unknown here twenty years ago, the Black Vulture has been making inroads, expanding its range northward. There are several hypotheses about why this is happening. First, the explosion in the white tailed deer population since the 1970’s provides a great increase in one of their major food sources. And the warming climate may be making the north more hospitable.

There is a town in Ohio named Hinckley (near where I grew up) that celebrates the annual arrival of the “Buzzards” on March 15. (“Turkey buzzard” is another name for the Turkey Vulture.) The return of the buzzards may not be as romantic as swallows returning to Capistrano, but it is still an occasion for much anticipation and celebration after a long Ohio winter.

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