Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 12: Lingering Vultures

Soaring above the tinted trees and the river this morning were a pair of vultures, dark wings spread wide. The two raptors tilted and turned in ever-widening circles as I watched. While most hawks have headed south at this point, vultures linger on. Last year I remember seeing them into November, and they returned as early as late February this year. Pretty soon, they won't even bother to leave. Is this a sign of global warming? Or is this just the continued northern dispersal of a southern species, one that first arrived in midcoast Maine just over 30 years ago? I have a strong memory of seeing the first ones appear in the skies over Bald Mountain when I was a teenager playing tennis at the Snow Bowl courts. I'd just seen them for the first time in Florida, so it was with some surprised that I recognized them here. Vultures nest on Bald to this day.

And, if vultures are here to stay, do we have enough unfrozen dead meat around to feed this species through the winter? Unlike their black vulture cousins, turkey vultures only eat what's already dead. I recall a news story of a woman in New York who elicited complaints from her neighbor because she left steaks out on her roof to attract the vultures. What she saw as a beautiful bird others saw as a rather gruesome nuisance.

I'm not sure I'd toss meat out in my yard to attract them, but I do love to watch them soar. And there's something particularly dramatic about seeing these large, black birds circling above the blushing autumn forest.

Before they head south,
vultures glory in fall air,
fiery leaves below.

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