Rick Brockway

Rick BrockwayOUTDOORS

My son Randy stopped in yesterday on his way back from Norwich. “I saw something today that I bet you’ve never seen,” he said.

“What’s that?” I responded.

“A turkey vulture swooped down and tried to catch a woodchuck,” Randy said.

“Buzzards don’t eat live animals. Their feet are useless when trying to rip into their prey. They eat dead animals,” I tried to explain.

“Hey, I’m just telling you what I saw,” Randy said.

Now, I don’t doubt him. Randy spends more time out in the wilds than I do anymore and is a keen observer of wildlife. A hawk or an eagle would attack a woodchuck, but a vulture would more likely eat a dead one that was killed in the highway.

Turkey vultures or buzzards are scavengers. You often see them riding the thermals searching for a meal. They have large, dark bodies with long, broad wings and have long “fingers” on their wingtips. These predators also have a very acute sense of smell. I read some place that vultures can smell a dead animal a quarter of a mile in the air. Because they often eat rotten animals, they have no feathers on their heads, making them a rather ugly bird.

The other day, there were four vultures circling overhead as I walked up on my hill. I know there are many of you who watched those old westerns at the movies or on television years ago. Someone was often walking in the desert without food or water and the vultures were circling overhead waiting for them to die. That’s not how it works. The old cowboy would have to be dead for a day or so before the smell would reach the buzzards. But, the black vulture relies on its sharp vision to locate its next meal, so maybe those old westerns employed black vultures in their movies. Heck, I have no idea.

Since vultures have feet more like a chicken, they find their prey and use their sharp powerful beaks to rip the meat apart.

One day several years ago I was driving to Forest City, Pennsylvania. There were two vultures on the side of the road eating a dead deer carcass. I slowed down, but just before reaching them, one flew up carrying a large piece of meat. He got high enough to avoid getting hit, but the meat that hung from his beak was dragged across my windshield and got caught on the end of my driver’s side windshield wiper. Of course, I turned them on. Bad idea! There was a slimy mess smeared across my windshield, forcing me to stop. I had to use the washer and some napkins to clean off the foul smelling mess enough to drive. I stopped at a car wash once reaching town and cleaned it better. That was far better than losing my windshield and killing the poor critter.

In some parts of the world the vulture is called the carrion crow. Maybe that’s because crows are always picking on some dead animal in the road. It always amazes me how good their timing is when it comes to cars traveling at 65 or more miles per hour. Heck, I watched one recently just walk across the white line on the side of the road and wait for me to pass rather than flying away.

Hey… they either learn how to deal with traffic or they die. I see far more dead deer than I do crows and vultures. Which one do you think is smarter?

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