Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Ugly to the Last Degree"

That's how the 1936 book Birds of America described the turkey vulture. And you've gotta admit they had a point.
Not even his momma loves this face.
photo by Paco Lyptic
















Turkey vultures need that bald head so they can dip into a gooey meal without fouling any feathers. But the head is just one piece of the ugly that this bird can claim. Consider its method of self-defense: projectile vomiting (but try not to consider just what it is they would urk up), and its self-cooling strategy of excreting on its legs.

My friend Greta, a poet, once asked me to identify the birds with the silvery underwings that she liked to watch rocking and gliding in the thermals. She felt a certain kinship with them, she told me, an affinity. I think she identified with them a little less after I explained about the projectile yarfing and the pooping-on-the-legs habit. But hey, if anyone can see the beauty in a turkey vulture, it would be a poet.

12 comments:

  1. I think they look cool. I called them "Majestic Janitors" in a post from last year. Who else is going to clean up all the dead stuff?

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  2. Oh yeah, Mike, and it was your "Backyard Birds of Prey" post that got me thinking about vultures and Greta's predilection for them.

    (If you haven't found him already, you can track Mike down at www.slugyard.com)

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  3. Poor pathetic creatures---but what fascinating bits of info---causes one to marvel at nature's housekeeping genius---though I prefer the composting model----

    You'd think projectile vomiting would be unnecessary, once a predator got a look at that face. Not to mention the illogical precaution of keeping its head unfouled while shitting its legs.

    This post truly endears me to the bluebird family I'm watching in my backyard - - -

    I'm off to read slugyard---

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  4. Somehow I find them beautiful, but my God they have to worse breath in the world! I once sneaked up behind a pair while they were consuming a partially decomposed deer, one of them coughed, the smell in the air was so overpowering I almost fell over!

    And they do serve a magnanimous purpose, something humans can't seem to get the hang of, keeping our planet clean!

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  5. But the turkey vultures do have that rocking on the thermals thing down to an art! You just have to admire them from a distance. Not an acceptable housepet for suburbia.

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  6. Ah, yes, Roxie! A more complete excerpt of the "Birds of America" quote is "ugly to the last degree except in flight."

    Wild Bill--how funny! Thanks for sharing that--I can't say I've ever experienced turkey vulture breath. (And apparently I don't want to!)

    Dkm--thanks for stopping by. I am exceedingly jealous of your backyard bluebirds--and love that pretty mossy nest (see it at http://backyardspectator.blogspot.com/2011/04/bluebird-update.html)

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  7. Nature's undertakers perform a necessary but unpleasant task. But now that you've revealed the gory details, I fear I will be unable to forget them. Thank you, my dear. :-) Alice Lynn

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  8. Viewing at a distance, they look nicer! Greta,...I wonder what she is up to...been a long time. I am in Eugene now at a hotel enjoying freedom and quiet! I am here for a conference for work and have not seen any vultures. Just lots of rain!

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  9. I saw a vulture feasting on a second roadkill vulture once. I could just imagine the conversation back at the nest. "I have some good news, and some bad news..."

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  10. Viewing at a distance, they look nicer! Greta,...I wonder what she is up to...been a long time. I am in Eugene now at a hotel enjoying freedom and quiet! I am here for a conference for work and have not seen any vultures. Just lots of rain!

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  11. But the turkey vultures do have that rocking on the thermals thing down to an art! You just have to admire them from a distance. Not an acceptable housepet for suburbia.

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