Cathartes Aura, or "Purifying Air"
March 15, 2011 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Celebrate "Buzzard Day" this weekend at Arizona's Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Too far away? You can always join the Turkey Vulture Society instead. They'll teach you how to attract vultures to your property (or if you prefer, how to discourage them).
posted by hermitosis (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't need to know how to attract a vulture to my neighborhood. All you need to do is run over a squirrel or a rabbit and the vultures kind of appear. For such big friggin birds, those guys sure know how to sidle up on the roadkill.
posted by NoMich at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2011

A group of vultures is called a "Venue". Vultures circling on thermals of hot air are also referred to as a "Kettle", because they resemble the rising bubbles in a boiling pot of water.

I love this! Thanks!
posted by The Toad at 11:43 AM on March 15, 2011

TV's rock!
posted by gingerbeer at 11:45 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I should add that love watching them while they work. They're so big and their presence casts this sort of darkness and gloom to the immediate area. I feel like I'm in a horror novel or a spaghetti western.
posted by NoMich at 11:46 AM on March 15, 2011

I spent part of my youth on a cattle farm in Virginia, and was fascinated by the turkey vultures with their colourful bald heads and graceful soaring. They did a great job of cleaning up cow afterbirths.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:09 PM on March 15, 2011

Vultures are certainly fascinating. It's funny to see these huge birds wheeling so gracefully in the sky, but then when they're walking on land they're lurching around like a bunch of Igors.
posted by Gator at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2011

I said this a while back, so rather than recreate the wheel with my attached images, I'll just quote myself.

"I like turkey vultures. There is a photogenic one that hung out in an area I liked to frequent, so I would just sit around taking pictures of it all day long."
posted by quin at 12:29 PM on March 15, 2011

Rats, missed the second part of my quote:

"There is something about the wonderful incongruity of those beautiful wings being paired with that ugly bald head that makes me smile"
posted by quin at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The swallows return to Capistrano and the buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio...
posted by Lone_Wolf at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2011

They'll teach you how to attract vultures to your property (or if you prefer, how to discourage them).

My dad has settled nicely into his retirement. He'd always been inclined to puttering, and now that it's his full-time job, he's really branched out. Early on in his retirement, he got a bird feeder. He and my mom got no end of pleasure from watching the variety of birds that traveled through. Pretty soon, he began making bird feeders. Then he began growing his own gourds so that he could make bird feeders and houses. This, of course, required building a large arbor in the middle of the yard so that the gourd vines would have something to climb. You see how it goes.

In any case, he finally got maxed out on feeders for songbirds. Then he realized that crows are pretty interesting too. So he started feeding them. At first it was just the predictable kind of table scraps -- bread crusts, blueberries that had gone soft, etc. Then he started putting pretty much ALL of the table scraps out for the crows. One day their next-door neighbor (who, fortunately, is also a very good friend), called in a state of panic because one of their dogs had dragged home a chicken carcass. They live out in the country, you see, and when a dog steals a chicken, talk turns to shotguns. But anyway, the dog was innocent. Turns out my dad had put the chicken carcass out for the crows and they hadn't really worked through all their options before the Jack Russell got involved.

This past Thanksgiving, my dad started what we're afraid will be a new tradition. He put the turkey necks and all the other weird parts out there for the crows. My mom happened past the kitchen window and for a split-second thought, "Wow, those crows are getting big." It took her just a moment to realize that they weren't crows, that it was a group of 12 turkey vultures.

Like I said, we're afraid he has a new hobby. I tell people that my dad feeds his crows and they think it's charming. I don't really want to what they'll think if I start telling them that he's feeding the buzzards.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:53 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've seen the buzzards at Boyce Thompson... there's an area where you can climb up, basically be on the same level as them in the trees, only a hundred yards or so away to the side. They're pretty remarkable in person...
posted by ph00dz at 12:58 PM on March 15, 2011

Holy crap, a turkey vulture MeFi post! I have been a huge fan of TVs for years. They nest and breed here in the Hudson Valley, and I've photographed them many times. (If you're on the East coast, a great place to see TVs up close is the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, a terrific raptor center where they rehabilitate birds of prey.) I've always wanted to make it out to the Boyce Thompson festival; for now, I make do with my own weird tributes, like my tattoo and my license plate.

People always ask me why I like them so much. To most people and cultures, they represent death -- but in my mind, they also represent life. They are nature's garbage men, removing bacteria and rot from the soil and the atmosphere, turning death back into life. They seem to love (I know, I'm anthropomorphizing) soaring in their wobbly way on the thermals over the Hudson River, and they looks so regal, sitting in trees and warming their wings in the sun. They were revered in many cultures, actually. So, thanks for posting this!

P.S. Sorry for all the links. When it comes to these birds, I really can't help myself.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 1:34 PM on March 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

My favorite vulture poem, by Robinson Jeffers:


I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him.
To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.
posted by LucretiusJones at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

In Ely, Nevada the vultures come to roost every season in the trees above the little graveyard. It's very scenic and wonderfully creepy.

They have perforated nostrils (scroll down a bit in the Wiki article). A biologist told me once that they pick their nose a lot, because when they are feeding, carrion slips into their open nostrils and impedes their breathing. And nose-picking rotting-flesh eaters is AWESOME!

We occasionally get California condors in Nevada too, I guess, but I'm not certain I've ever seen one.
posted by elendil71 at 1:56 PM on March 15, 2011

The day after my (successful) dissertation defense, the yearly vulture migration passed through the little town where I lived. I came out that morning to 100 or so vultures circling over my yard. Had that happened a day earlier, I might have just stayed home.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:59 PM on March 15, 2011

On a side note - Only in the U.S. is a vulture also called a buzzard. Being an avid bird trainer and falconer, whenever I hear someone call a vulture a "buzzard" I cringe a little.

The terms "buzzard" and "vulture" are interchangeable for most people in the U.S. A turkey vulture is also commonly known as a turkey buzzard. In the Old World, however, the terms refer to entirely different bird of prey species. To clarify which birds belong to which families it is necessary to introduce two more terms: Buteos and hawks.

Buteo is the name of the genus of the larger family Accipitradae to which most European "buzzards" belong, meaning they are very closely related to the majority of North American hawks. Americans sometimes refer to species such as the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni) simply as Buteos. An average British man, unfamiliar with Latin names, will however be confused to hear an American visitor identify a common buzzard (Buteo buteo) as a Buteo. He would just call it a buzzard. And we would wonder where the vuture was that he was referring to.

One of my favorite birds I've worked with is the Augur Buzzard - a true Buzzard, and a gorgeous animal, but it looks like Africa's answer to the Red-Tailed Hawk.
When ever i hear people refer to the African White Backed Vultures I work with as "buzzards" I have to bore them with a bird lesson. I could let it slide if they were referring to a Black or a Turkey Vulture but an old world bird shouldn't have to suffer through the misnomer should it?

I wish this festival would change it's name! But I am just happy that people are celebrating these cool animals with a face only a mother could love. And me.

International Vulture Awareness Day is September 3, 2011 this year. I dare you to participate.
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 2:21 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Note that the aura in the scientific name for the turkey vulture is not from the Latin word aura meaning air or breeze, but from an indigenous American name for the bird.
posted by gubo at 2:59 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some true Buzzard tales: My brother put out the turkey bone carcass after Thanksgiving, and the next thing we knew a big buzzard was right in our back yard. Cleaned it all up.

A friend of my husband was sunbathing, lying very still, when she looked up and noticed a flock of buzzards circling above her. She got up and moved.

I like buzzards. There is a buzzard tree on the property of the creepy old insane asylum near here that is regularly filled with them. A chilling sight.
posted by mermayd at 3:06 PM on March 15, 2011

Does participation entail lying dead in a field while vultures pick my carcass? Because if so then I'm already busy that day.

No. . . participation entrails lying dead in a field while vultures pick your carcass. . .
posted by Herodios at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2011

To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.

Thank you so much for posting this, LucretiusJones! It's perfect.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2011

Here in rural Ohio, we have a big dead tree on our property (hollow at the top where lightning struck many years ago) where turkey vultures roost every year. I can't swear they're always the same couple, but I call them Monroe & Babs. They came back from wherever they winter just last week.

I love these birds. Watching them soar over the fields around us is fascinating and restful. I think they're used to me, and when they came back last week, one of them zoomed over me about 15 feet up. Very cool.
posted by words1 at 8:54 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing like cooling your feet in a creek at the foot of Enchanted Rock watching the vultures ride the thermals as the clouds roll in from the Southwest.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:52 PM on March 15, 2011

Man, I played way too much Warcraft. I read that as "Blizzard Day."
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:31 AM on March 16, 2011

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