Friday, September 3, 2010

Black Vultures, the cleanup crew

You know you’re a nature nerd when you find yourself stopping to take photos of vultures hanging out near a fast-food dumpster!

I don't remember this scavenger when I lived in the northern Midwest, but they seem to be abundant in the South – I see them as or more often than the more familiar turkey vultures. My bird books show a range for black vultures extending into South America, and as far north in the United States as Missouri, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

Without vultures to clean up dead and decomposing matter, our world would be rampant with disease-causing bacteria (not to mention how untidy and smelly it would become). Although some view vultures as harbingers of death, symbols of filth, or ominous omens – they have an indispensable job in our natural system.

Wikipedia has a nice entry about black vultures, and Saturday, 9-04-10 is International Vulture Awareness Day. Consider this event to be a reminder to learn a little more about these thankless janitors, and to appreciate their role in the circle of life and death on earth.

The more I read about vultures, the more impressed I am by their unique adaptations and value to mankind. Tidbits I found interesting:

• The common name of vulture comes from the Latin word vulturus meaning “tearer.”
• The genus name Cathartidae means “purifier.”
• The scientific name (Coragyps atratus) means “raven-vulture” and “clothed in black.”
• Care must be taken with vulture chicks because they imprint readily with humans.
• Black vultures may choose to migrate or to stay.
• They tend to be social birds.
• Like turkey vultures, they do not sing or call, but hiss and grunt.
• Black vultures are New World Vultures. Current dispute on vulture classification going on!
• They are monogamous.
• Vultures use the sun to bake and kill bacteria from their heads, beaks, and feathers.

You can click on the image above to view it larger on my Flickr photostream.

Parents and teachers:
You can click here to download a PDF coloring page of an ink drawing of the center bird.