New Dwellers in the Old Barn
Being home much more than usual this Spring, I've noticed a pair of Black Vultures lurking in my tree tops in recent weeks. Sometimes I see a large shadow coast over the grass and look up to see one floating on the currents overhead. Other times, my attention is drawn by a flustering in the leaves only to see one or both birds settling on a branch.
I did not like them hanging around so much, at first. I thought some small animal must by lying dead nearby. I was afraid they would go after my songbirds or chipmunks, or even my outdoor cat Chloe Otter. Drinking my coffee outside in the morning, I would tell them to go away with a terse tone I never even used on the greedy Tufted Titmice that take over the feeders.
Then, last week, the neighbor's dog caught my attention out the window of my reading room-slash-office (don't so many of us have those rooms now?) that faces up the hill toward the old barn. Someone who lived here long ago must have had horses. There are two stalls, plus a work area on one side still filled with old, warped lumber and spider webs. Anyway, neighbor-dog Bootsy rustled around in the leaves, fully committed to a scent she tracked, and I saw one of the Black Vultures fly into a white oak for protection.
Later that morning, I quietly walked around the barn watching the Vulture couple canoodling in the trees. They seemed to find great comfort with each other, safe from Bootsy's persistent nose. I haven't yet found where they are nesting, both because I'm a bit nervous to go in there and I don't want to disturb them if they are incubating. But based on their behavior and daily comings and goings, I believe they have laid a couple eggs inside and made my old barn their home.
Vultures don't build nests. They simply lay eggs in old logs or barrels, in rafters, or on the floor of abandoned buildings.
Actually, let's back up a bit because chances are you're wondering 'why should I care about these seemingly unpleasant birds?!' True?
Granted, they are not ones to attract our adoring attention like Eastern Bluebirds, fanciful Pileated Woodpeckers, or the Wood Thrushes I wrote of last week.
But have you ever looked up to see a Vulture floating high above the trees? Using the energy of the wind they can soar for miles, rarely flapping their wings. The Vulture can symbolize for us how to harness and best use our personal energy.
And while they are associated with death because they feed nearly exclusively on carrion, death is also part of the cycle of life. They are essential scavengers, transforming death into new life. The Vulture, if you choose, may be a symbol of rebirth and purification, or even new beginnings.
Have you ever heard the call or cry of a Vulture? No, you haven't. Because they don't have a voice. They may hiss when threatened but they cannot vocalize like other birds. For Vultures, actions truly speak louder than words -- another example they can offer us.
Back to the barn... Since the egg incubation period is so long (37-41 days) and then the young remain in the nest for about 60 days, not taking flight until 75-80 days, I don't feel any particular rush to investigate. I want to learn more and simply pay attention. Could my intrusion in the barn disturb their comfort and risk the viability of the eggs? Might we frighten each other? While I find inspiration and meaning in what these birds symbolize and their place in a whole, healthy ecosystem, I still don't want to find myself nose-to-beak with one of them!
So for now, I'm content to observe their daily behavior. And to sneak peeks between the old boards into the shadows. For these Vultures, during this time of isolation, are also teaching me patience.
Read "Under The Vulture-Tree" by David Bottoms
We have all seen them circling pastures,
have looked up from the mouth of a barn, a pine clearing,
the fences of our own backyards, and have stood
amazed by the one slow wing beat, the endless dihedral drift. (more)