Watching the Vultures

Here in the small town I live in, we have a fair number of vultures swinging around overhead. Part of the reason must be available food, rodents and such. I understand these birds are not predators, but rather scavenge from carcasses they spy from above. Our local menu may not be all roadkill, for the landscape is fairly rural outside the town limits and there are no doubt plenty of animals to keep an eye on and varied opportunities to swoop in for a snack or meal.

A local vulture soaring on a thermal. Photo by Wes Dunn.

Another reason we are a popular spot, I think, is our local air currents. We’re in a gorge here, along the river and part of the present-day Erie Canal. In the mornings and the evenings, I often see several or more of these big birds soaring, gliding, and taking great wheeling turns on the thermals and updrafts. It looks fun, appealing—it makes me wish I could fly!

At any rate, this has been a wet summer and this week (post-Hurricane-Irene, mind) more torrential rains fell. During a break in the downpours, I took the dog for a walk in the park. And there I saw a strange sight: vultures, perched in the tall trees, wings spread out. Wings spread out to dry, I am guessing. They hung out there in that posture for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

A vulture, perched high in a tree, spreads its wings to dry out. Photo by Wes Dunn.

I have never seen this behavior in vultures. In cormorants, yes. Cormorants evidently lack some natural oils that would shed water and, out on the coast, you often see them perched on rocks or dock pilings, in a posture like this, airing out their wet wings, waiting to dry off a bit. I was not aware that vultures did this, too. Somehow I always thought of vultures as burly, indomitable creatures, never resting, never slowed down or fazed by anything.

  1. joanne says

    I live outside Harrisville, NY-just inside the “blue line” of the Adirondack Park. We see turkey vultures on a daily basis, and I have observed the “airing out” of the wings. Early one morning when there had been a heavy dew during the night, there were several turkey vultures lined up along the crossbars of the wooden poles carrying high voltage lines across our property. They were a magnificent sight with their wings spread out in the warm sun. Sadly, by the time I returned from the house with my camera, they were sufficiently dried out, and the show was over.

  2. Virginia says

    We live on the Eastern Shore of MD. by a tidal creek amid many trees, This spring we had over 100 vultures in the trees around our house. They made no noise except when they flew. Many of them spread their wings to dry or warm up.They were there for about a week and then they were gone. I made a cartoon using one of the pictures I took, captioned, “Virginia, What are you putting in the bird feeder?”
    Our kids had fun sending emails like—“They are waiting for one of you to die!”, “Keep Dad inside!” etc. It was fun while it lasted and I got some great pictures.

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