Monday, December 01, 2008

Not Really Turkeys

For Thanksgiving I went to visit family down in Annapolis, Maryland for several days. The stuffed turkey was nearly the only bird I focused on, so my bins remained in their case most of the week. I did, however, have an interesting bird-related experience on Thanksgiving morning.

The YMCA has an annual "Turkey Trot" to raise money for their Camp Letts facility. It's a beautiful, wooded property located on the South River in Edgewater, Maryland. They organize both a 5k and 10k run that draws a big crowd each year. I'm not a runner, but I always go over early in the morning to support family members who do run. During the race, I wander around the woods and river banks with my bins.

This year, before the start of the race, I noticed a flock of birds in a large tree that overlooks the finish line; very large birds. They were a mix of Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. There were 33 sitting in a single tree and several more nearby. I hoped their presence wasn't some kind of eerie omen for the runners. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on their part.

After the starting gun, I wandered across the parking field to where the vultures were perched. Despite their huge size and scary appearance, they were pretty skittish and half of them took off. The leaf litter below their perch looked like a well used painter's drop cloth, and I won't even get into the pungent bouquet. I guess a biologist really needs to be dedicated to study these interesting creatures. To complete this fascinating Thanksgiving morning picture were their "songs". A good word to describe their vocalizations would be prehistoric. I wouldn't be surprised if they were used as sound effects in "Jurassic Park". As the vultures jostled for prime perching spots they made bizarre hissing sounds. A few times I also heard what sounded sort of like barking. Eventually, I realized that standing beneath a tree full of vultures was probably asking for trouble, so I headed back to the finish line.

I briefly searched the Internet for a collective noun for vultures. Crows have their "murder", quails have their "covey" and hawks have their "kettle", but what about the lowly vultures? Many years ago, my friend Jonathan Rosenthal suggested the expression, "a fester of vultures". Having spent a few minutes listening to and smelling the avian equivalent to a sanitation crew, it seems like a fitting poetic collective.

-click to hear a Black Vulture-
-click to hear a Turkey Vulture-

1 comment:

Marie said...

A moult of vultures?

Fester's good...they sound like the three vultures in the original Jungle Book movie. So whaddaya wanna do..?

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