• Sandy Obodzinski

Curious Companions

This past Wednesday I found myself wondering if the Black Vultures might visit the lower deck of my home before mid-summer when it would be time to lure their young from the barn. Last year, their first appearance on that deck, just feet from where I sleep, came in July. They caused a manic noisy ruckus all meant to call their fledgling out into the world (as I would later understand.)

At 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, I received an answer to my pondering. I heard a few wing whooshes and then a thud. Knowing their sounds, as minimal as they are, gives me a joyful rush -- the huffing sound like a dog's half-bark that is part of the mating dance, the whip-whir of their feathers when they shake, the thumps of their arrival in a nearby tree, the barn door, and at that moment my deck.


I jumped to the window -- one bird was on the deck looking wet and shiny; the other, hopping up the hill coming from the direction of the creek, joined its partner on the railing to preen.


But first, their majestic sun salutation! That is how I see what is called the horaltic pose, when vultures spread their wings, back to the sun, to thermoregulate their body temperature and dry their feathers. They did this on the deck railing and also on the floor of the deck near windows watching my cats with curiosity.


Think of your favorite small songbird -- a Cardinal, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Bluebird -- they all adjust their heads in quick tilty movements to observe their surroundings. Black Vultures do the same thing. They observe my cats, other birds, and especially me, all with curious interest as if they are cataloging my movements and behaviors. In my telling of these stories to friends, my VeeVees have much to say about 'The Lady' who is always pointing a camera at them and singing their names.

The VeeVees stayed a short time on the deck before returning to the creek. With only two or three wing flaps, each one soared down the hill and through the trees, just moments apart, until they were out of sight.


Such majesty in their soaring!

Every bit as elegant as an Eagle and precise as a fighter jet.


A short time later, they returned -- SOAKED and shiny clean! Their hygiene is immaculate, and a friend suggested that perhaps all this bathing and grooming was an evolved mating behavior. I wished I could have watched their bathing escapade. Splish splash! They spent the next hour grooming themselves and each other. They napped. The female folded down into a broody hen-like position while the male watched over the woods.

And then he made his move.


Between the meticulous preening and napping, they stayed for five hours and mated twice on my deck.


Both birds were here Thursday and Friday, mostly roosting in the trees near the barn. Though perhaps my spying on their behavior was a nuisance to the female. On Thursday, when he tried to mount her, she retreated to the barn and he quickly followed.


I've read that bonded pairs will hover around their preferred breeding site for four to six weeks, assessing whether it is safe and suitable to their liking.


I think of this as 'house hunters' for Black Vultures. No granite countertops or shiplap required. Rather, a protected dirt floor in the corner of a rickety barn. I worry that the flap of metal roof that has come loose, banging in the wind, will bother them. Perhaps that's why they visited the deck this week, to lodge a repair request with the landlord.

This video is a montage of photos all taken Wednesday during their visit. Enjoy!

Black Vulture behavior 101

  • social, curious, unafraid of humans which sometimes gets them in trouble

  • it isn't possible to visually ID male/female unless they exhibit mating behavior

  • bonded pairs mate for life

  • the horaltic pose is (wingspread) is done to warm the body (not an aggressive posture or pre-cursor to attack)

  • buzzard is a slang name for several types of vultures; Black Vultures have gray heads while Turkey Vultures have red on their head and brown in feathers

  • Black Vultures prefer carrion (dead things) for meals though some have been reported to kill small animals, very likely a learned behavior

  • a female will lay 1-3 eggs, typically 2, rarely 3; both parents take shifts incubating the eggs

  • once eggs are laid, they typically hatch 35-40 days later; both parents share duties caring for the hatchlings and regurgitating food found while soaring the skies

  • young Black Vultures remain protected in the 'nest' area up to 80 days, at which time they begin practicing flight skills; parents do not build actual nests but rather lay the eggs on the dirt floor, in the case of my barn

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