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  • Writer's pictureSandy Obodzinski

Myths & Misunderstandings

Black Vulture's mate for life, preen and groom each other, share egg-sitting duties, and make remarkable parents. Yes, I will dare to say they are quite precious to observe and can actually be adorable with each other and their young.

And yes, there are awful things too: some myths and misunderstandings, some facts that are disturbing. I have found that most are eager to dismiss these essential predators because of those perceptions and unpleasant facts. (If the cryptic tone bothers you, I'll just advise that you do NOT Google Black Vultures and newborn calves.) But yes, they do eat dead things, prefer eating something dead to killing animals as hawks do (but it does happen). More later on their role as garbage cleaner-uppers and their special adaptations to do so while remaining incredibly CLEAN - yes, that's true!

I want to show another side to the couple that chose my old barn to lay two eggs. One hatched in early May and ventured into the world five days ago on July 21.

July 20: Black Vulture couple resting between bouts of jumping from the railing to the deck to lure the baby out of the barn. I first heard repeated thumping noises at 10 am. This continued ALL DAY until nearly 9 pm.

July 21: Fledgling on the barn fence. The parents landed on my deck around 8 am and behaved like toddlers on Red Bull until shortly after 1 pm. The baby had appeared in the window of the barn door. I don't know how long it was there. But minutes later it was in a tree trying to balance on a branch.

As I wrote about previously, Black Vultures do not have voice boxes. If you've seen and heard Eastern Bluebirds at work when it is time for their babies to fledge, they fly around and sing for hours. Once you know the song, it is easy to recognize what is happening. So pour a glass of wine and watch. Bluebirds leaving the nest is magical.

Black Vulture parents trying to lure a baby out of a barn isn't magical in the same way. It's loud! They flew from the deck to the roof to the deck railing, jumped to the deck, flew back up, jumped back down. Four-pound thuds x two, over and over and over again for 11 hours on Monday. The constant whoosh of their wings every few minutes was like the snare drum to those bass drum thumps.

They took it up a notch Tuesday. It was frenetic. I had to step away from a Zoom staff meeting six times in one hour to shoo them off my covered deck. (Anybody see that note in Zoom etiquette articles?!)

Tuesday was exhausting but something very special was happening. These parents used my home to lure their baby from the only place it had known, the only place it had been safe, for 11 weeks. And, these parents trusted me.

July 25: Couple and fledgling (middle) hanging out on my deck before taking off for flying lessons down to the grown and into the trees.

Since the baby left the barn on Tuesday, it has returned there in the evenings. It has also taken the parents a few hours each morning to lure it back out. Until today, when at 9 am the whole family gathered on my deck where they spent much of the day.

I have witnessed so many moments and behaviors this week...

  • Parents grooming and curling their necks around each other many times each hour they are together and when reunited after one is away

  • One parent walking in circles around the other; typically a mating behavior

  • All three stretching their legs and wings, leaning forward as if to give their backs a break from carrying their weight

  • Both parents on the barn fence, wings spread wide as if showing their baby in the tree what to do with those feathered arms

  • And today, parents feeding the baby, beak inside beak, just like the Downy Woodpeckers and House Finches did weeks ago

Important absences this week...

  • No hissing

  • No growling

  • No aggressive behavior

For whatever reasons, for now, these birds trust me and they trust this space.

The baby is doing its job being brave, venturing into the world, and learning. A world unlikely to appreciate it.

The parents are doing their jobs. They nurtured the egg for about 40 days, raised the baby for 11 weeks, and now will care and feed it for as long as 8 months.

I'm learning that the best things I can do are encourage them away from my home and stop talking to them so as not to imprint on the baby and harm its chances for survival. There is so much more to share in the coming weeks.

For now, I am simply grateful. To be part of nature is cause for reverence.


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