Black Vulture Nursery
It's past time to catch-up with the Black Vulture happenings at my Treehouse in the woods. This post won't be fancy, just a bit of a timeline and general happenings to get up-to-speed on the events leading up to this third year with two fledglings ready to make their way in the world.
With that, let's review...
Shortly after the pandemic lockdown started, I noticed two black vultures in my trees and eventually checking out the old barn on my property. While I kept my distance, this pair was quite curious about me and the cats. They would spend hours on the lower deck on the creek side of my home. Eventually they would tap at the window with their beaks while the cats walked up to the window, nose-to-nose.
After a month or so, they laid two eggs in the barn on the ground -- about 40 days later one hatched. I had taken to calling the parents VeeVee (both the same name) because their isn't a way to distinguish their sex by sight. Unlike cardinals and bluebirds, there's no difference in the colors of their feathers.
That one hatchling I took to calling Flower, who turned into quite an adorable and curious companion while the parents went off hunting. Come late September, the family flew off for a final time to join their community. Other than some flyovers during the winter, I didn't see them again until spring 2021.
I learned that when black vultures are successful at a breeding site, they are very likely to return. It was quite exciting to see that happen in March 2021. They are also monogamous for life and because of the behavior patterns of this pair, I knew they were my VeeVees from the prior year.
We still kept our distance, but they trusted me from the get-go. I got to observe their pre-mating behavior -- the way the male tried to make his move multiple times; the trips they made to the creek to wash and refresh, then preen in the sun on my deck, then mate. And once again, they laid two eggs.
On Easter morning, I woke to a tapping at my window -- both parents were there along with a third, more slender bird. No one will ever convince me that that visitor was any other bird except Flower returning to say 'look at me'! Check out the pose!
A few weeks later in early May, the story took a turn. Right around the time one egg hatched, the Papa Vee flew off as per usual after a shift change to go feed.
He never returned.
My blog stopped last year at the week when the egg hatched. I had a trail cam set-up and pointed at the barn. I knew that shift-change typically happened between 9-11am daily but I never saw two birds coming and going. I started to see the female at the barn door looking up, as if looking for her partner. And then she left the barn, leaving the days-old hatchling alone. That's when I knew something was wrong and when I started contacting black vulture researchers and rehabbers in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
I didn't want to interfere, but I wanted advice on whether I could provide Mama Vee some support without causing harm. I was advised that hamburger and vegetables would be ok and helpful especially in those early weeks. I'll write more about that part of the story soon, but in short...I helped for a few weeks. Mama Vee still hunted. The baby black vulture, who I dubbed Poppy, thrived with quite the assertive little maniac personality. He behaved entirely different than Flower! And the last I saw Poppy and Mama Vee for a daily visit was August 24.
Here's Poppy on his first appearance at the barn door - 11 weeks old
Would the surviving female black vulture find a new mate and return to the barn?
That question lingered in the air through the fall and winter, until February 9th when I saw her return to the trees over the barn. Then, on February 14th, there were two! Standing side-by-side in the barn door opening, I saw them from the driveway and cried as I marveled at the wonder of nature.
There was no guarantee they would stay. But Mama Vee found a new mate and convinced him to check-out the nursery that had kept her hatchlings safe and nurtured them to grow and thrive for two years.
They stayed and once again two eggs were laid on the flat ground of the protected section of the barn. The pair took turns incubating the eggs, each a 24-hour shift changing between 9-11am daily for nearly 40 days.
In the last days of April 2022...both eggs hatched!
And here we are... July 8th when this year's baby Vees, Rue and Blue, made their first appearance at the barn door. Continuing the floral naming theme, I'm calling this pair Rue (for the spring ephemeral rue anemone) and Blue (for Virginia bluebells). It is still easy to tell them apart because Blue hatched a few days after Rue, and is slightly smaller with more downy fluff still peeking out from its grown-up feathers.
But I imagine they'll be somewhat indistinguishable in the coming weeks, so Rue & Blue will work for both! If the pattern from the past two years holds true, their first big soar will happen in about 10-14 days. Between now and then are some of the most entertaining days of the year as they explore the area around the barn and build their strength.
To be continued...