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Welcome vultures, welcome spring

In spring, a woman’s fancy turns to vultures?

If watching chickens is a fascination, then turkey vulture just may be your next treat. Warning: Those with sensitive stomachs may want to lurch along.

The turkey vulture is so named because of its resemblance to the turkey, a rafter that also made itself at home here recently. The only thing more fun than watching 40 turkeys stroll through the yard is watching neighbors Ken and Barb herd said turkeys from theirs. I look forward to this. The turkeys tried the old circle-around trick this time, thinking they might have missed something, but Barb deftly headed them off and sent them hurtling across the street.

Dover Acre is fast becoming a wildlife refuge. I have turkey leavings, owl pellets and cropped bushes to prove it. Soon, there will be vulture evidence. They roost high in the evergreens. Goggles and helmets are recommended when observing these large, carrion-enriched creatures.

Our Southern Oregon vulture population descends in late winter and remains throughout the breeding season feasting on road kill, garbage and all manner of things we find disgusting. In truth, if it were not for Cathartes aura, or “golden purifier,” we would be thigh-deep in dead things. When observing these birds perform their valuable clean-up duty, the words “pure” or “golden” may not pop to mind.

Our humble turkey vulture might be considered the urbane cavalier of the scavenger lot. A venue of vultures gathered at a carcass will usually have one individual dining at a time, while the others smoke cigars in the club room, telling raw stories and awaiting their turn. Unlike black vultures, our friends of the larger, gentler turkey persuasion very rarely attack anything breathing, but prefer the freshly deceased. When the first gathering appeared in my tree a few years back, I pondered the deeper meaning.

Vultures do exhibit a level of refinement. They avoid the scent glands when enjoying a skunk repast, and I’ve seen them grooming after a hard day at the grind.

Vultures mate for life and nest in private places away from where they roost, including caves, ledges, hollow trees and abandoned nests of other raptors. Generally raising two poults, parents share domestic duties.

They’re genial birds, never uttering a sound that I hear, though they apparently make creepy hissing/grunting noises at the dinner table, not unlike some human relations. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website has a sound identifier. Just be prepared. All I notice is the startling flounce of their large wings.

At two and a half feet in height, with a six-foot wing span, I hear them coming home to roost in the evening, then floating off for work each morning after spreading and warming their impressive wings in the sun. The sun and wind convey them. They flap very little, climbing to catch thermal breezes that power them aloft for soaring. With an acute sense of smell, they can zero in on a meal even when it’s hidden.

With a face only a parent could feed (of course, they regurgitate while doing so), vultures are not pretty, but their bald, red head is unabashedly practical to the purpose of cleaning up roadside messes and afterbirth.

Come September, I’ll hate to see them go. But one day on which they all agree, they’ll form a high kettle, join hundreds of others of their species, and wend their way to the tropics for a warm change and pina coladas. As sure as their arrival marks the renewal that flies on spring wings, the grand birds’ departure signals the coming of a darker season. Until then, they are welcome here.

Watching them stick their landings tonight was a real show. The wind was gusting fiercely, and the incoming would overshoot their target, quickly disappearing from view. Being engineered for superb navigation, they circled around and found an open branch, sure enough. How they keep from bobbling over, I don’t know. I wonder if they’ll find it tough sleeping tonight with the wind rifling their dormitory.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.