For the Birds: Vultures add to spooky scene

Photo by Chris Bosak
Turkey and black vultures perch on the roof of a house in New England, fall 2019.

Savanna and I reached the overlook and watched a bald eagle soaring above a sizable flock of Canada geese. The geese knew they were too big to be a target for the huge bird of prey so they went about their day as usual on the river.

After a few minutes, the bald eagle landed on a half-dead tree along the shoreline and settled in on its perch overlooking the slightly rippling water. Before we left the spot, a gang of blue jays flushed a sharp-shinned hawk out of an evergreen. We tried to follow the small hawk’s path but quickly lost sight of it among the trees growing up from the side of the cliff.

We returned to the car and pulled out of the parking lot, listening as a Carolina wren and late-staying gray catbird sang from the nearby brush.

Then the outing took a creepy turn.

We soon passed a sign for a haunted village in another park nearby. It was midday and the haunted village wasn’t going to open for another week, but we decided to drive through anyway to see if we could catch a glimpse of some of the spooky displays that would soon give visitors a delightful fright.

We didn’t see much other than a temporary black fence that hid the displays. It was fun, nonetheless, to imagine what may have lurked behind that fence.

As we exited the park, we immediately came upon a real-life haunted house. Of course, it wasn’t really haunted (not to my knowledge anyway), but the scene certainly made it appear so.

We noticed a few vultures flying around a neglected white house. Overgrown bushes and weeds overtook the yard and vines crept up the sides of the house. An old “for sale” sign was planted in the front yard telling us that the house was surely empty and had probably been so for a long time.

The scene grew more Halloween-like when we noticed a vulture land on the roof. With our attention now squarely on the flat roof, we noticed there were several vultures already perched on it. More vultures occupied a lower roof section above the porch. Yet another vulture perched on the top of a brick chimney and another perched on vent pipe.

A dead tree in the side yard also held several vultures. The scene was straight out of a horror movie and it seemed rather ironic that it was so close to a seasonal haunted Halloween village.

All the scene needed was a few stray black cats, a colony of bats flying out of the chimney, a strange person looking out the attic window and some eerie organ music in the background.

The flock was a mix of turkey and black vultures. Both species are increasing their population and expanding their range, belying the results of a recent study that indicated huge bird population losses over the last several decades. Black vultures are becoming noticeably more common in New England and turkey vultures are increasing in the region as well.

When they are soaring several hundred feet in the air, it is difficult to tell the two species apart. When you get a good look at them, however, there are many clear differences. The most obvious difference is that black vultures have black heads and turkey vultures have pink heads. Turkey vultures are also slightly larger with a wingspan upwards of 72 inches (6 feet), compared to a black vulture’s 65-inch span. Also, when looking at the underside of their wings, black vultures have white wing tips as if they are wearing gloves.

In reality, of course, the scene described previously wasn’t scary or spooky at all. The neighborhood cats and small dogs were safe as vultures eat carrion and very rarely hunt live prey. Many people think vultures are unsightly with their large bodies, bald heads and oversized nostrils, but I strongly disagree with that assessment. I appreciate their intimidating looks and size — a perfect complement to a haunted scene.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Turkey and black vultures perch on the roof of a house in New England, fall 2019.

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