|from the March 30, 2009 Newsletter, issued from near
BLACK VULTURES & A NEWBORN CALF
Returning from the Refuge we passed a pasture where a certain spot was thick with perching Black Vultures. "I bet a cow has just had a baby," Karen said. When we got closer, the baby calf, still wet, lay on the ground beside the mother, vultures surrounding them so closely that from time to time the mother swung her head at them. You can see the whole situation above.
Before I said a word Karen had stopped the car, run up to the fence with some rocks scooped from along the highway and with her first throw connected with a vulture's rear end so soundly that I could hear the hollow thud. Last year Karen had found a newborn colt in the same circumstances and gone into the pasture to personally shoo the vultures away until the colt could stand.
Karen isn't the only one knowing that Black Vultures will attack newborn critters and maim or even kill them. Take a look at the online article at http://www.countryworldnews.com/news/SCTX/2005/sc0512vultures.php.
The several websites I consulted on the matter all agreed that in North America only Black Vultures, Coragyps atratus, mostly of the US Southeast and southward, attack newborn livestock. Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura, the red-headed ones who nest throughout the US and southern Canada, do not attack newborns.
Karen scattered the 30 or so vultures in the area. Most of them circled awhile before drifting southward. The mother kept nudging the calf to stand up but she seemed nervous about our presence. We figured the crisis was over and we didn't want to distract the mother from her job anymore, so we left, confident that with the calf's growing activity the danger has passed.
from the October 6, 2008 Newsletter, written Sabacché
and issued from from a ciber in Mérida, Yucatán, México:
I arrived before convection currents begin forming and soon it was clear that the vultures abhorred the idea of taking to the air so early. Getting airborne seemed to be a dreaded chore for them so, if you approach them halfway non-threateningly, you can get fairly close. I drew near them like a lumbering cow, then sat and waited for them to get used to me. Their sounds fascinated me. Vultures are usually described as mostly silent, limiting their vocalizations to grunts and hisses, but the sound that got my attention was one like the woof! of a small, Schnauzer-type dog who can't make up his mind whether he needs to bark or not, so he barks halfheartedly as he looks away.
Later that day as I hiked through the scrub suddenly a loud, wind-ripping, whooshing noise tore through the space above me. At first I thought it was a low-flying jet with his engines off, but then I saw two Black Vultures displaying high in the sky. One vulture would dive at the other from high up, then pull up near the other so sharply that the whooshing sound was tremendous. You can see how this display would serve its purpose during courtship: The stronger the bird, the faster he's able to dive, the sharper he can make his pull-up, and the louder the resulting whoosh. The louder the whoosh, then, the healthier and stronger the prospective mate.
Above you can see a Black Vulture at the cenote basking with his wings held against the sunlight. Tuesday morning sunlight was intermittent, so for long periods all the twenty or so vultures perched preening or just resting, but the moment sunlight broke through, in unison, they'd all unfurl their wings like the one in the photo, and keep them open until the next cloud covered the sun.
Perches were important to those vultures, and birds at the top of the pecking order got the best perches. If Alpha Vulture wanted a perch occupied by a lower-ranked bird he'd simply fly to the lower-ranked bird's perch. If the lower-ranked bird didn't get out of the way automatically, a few pecks would be exchanged, but then the lower-ranked bird would quickly abandon his perch anyway.
The above photo shows the whiteness typical of a Black Vulture's major wing feathers. Howell in A Guide to The Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America describes the Black Vulture's plumage as "black overall, white shafts above and webs below of outer 6 primaries form contrasting whitish wing panels." You can see yourself whether the white is limited to the outer six primaries. When Black Vultures are soaring overhead, their white wing-spots, or "panels," are easily discerned.
In the photo you can also see the vulture's long, stout legs. When I started birding back in the 60s, field guides always placed vulture illustrations among those of hawks and falcons, because vultures were regarded as most closely related to them. Now our New World Vultures are accepted as most closely related to storks, not raptors or even Old World Vultures. Those long legs make their stork affinities easy to believe.
By the way, you can see the difference in silhouettes between an overhead Turkey Vulture and a Black Vulture below:
from the September 7, 2007 Newsletter, issued from from
Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO:
However, I've observed egrets and herons wading in shallow water and a Cooper's Hawk on dry land flashing their wings, apparently trying to scare prey from before them. It looked like the vultures were doing that, though I can't be sure. If I had to guess, I'd say that the vultures were feeding on small, juvenile toads, of which multitudes appeared on the rain-soaked road that day.
It wouldn't be too surprising for this to be case, for Black Vultures are known to take living prey. A page at http://www.sheepusa.org warns sheep farmers that Black Vultures "subdue, capture and eat live prey, including birds, skunks and opossums, turtle hatchlings and fish," plus there are stories about them killing livestock.
In fact, Black Vultures have a bit of a thuggish reputation. Black Vultures can't locate decaying carcasses by smell the way Turkey Vultures do. Often Turkey Vultures locate a carcass by its odor, descend to eat, and when Black vultures see the landing Turkeys they land en masse, drive away the less aggressive Turkey Vultures, and eat their fill.
from the March 18, 2012 Newsletter issued from Hacienda
Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
from the December 5, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda
Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
|Notice the lack of feathers on the head, a condition enabling the bird to insert his
head into gore and withdraw it without the mess catching beneath his feathers. Also notice
the hole behind the eye. That's the ear hole.
Other birds have ear holes, too, but usually they're covered with feathers.
from the March 3, 2013 Newsletter issued from the valley
of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern
border of the Edwards Plateau, USA
That's a Black Vulture. The question arises as to whether he's an albino or a "leucistic" individual, the difference being that albino organisms are white or whitish because they lack the black pigment melanin, but still may produce pigments such as orangish carotenoids, while leucistic organisms lack all pigments. Albinos, therefore, often look yellowish or display some other light coloring, while leucistic birds are absolutely white. But, if a bird is naturally totally black, how do you know whether it's white because of lack of melanin, or because all pigments are missing?
Our white Black Vulture has pink eyes and pinkish skin, but that's blood coloring, not skin or feather pigment. Our bird's tail feathers are lightly stained but that may be from pooping.
Cornell University has a web page explaining the differences between albino and leucistic birds. There they say that "Solid white birds with pink eyes everyone agrees are albinistic, and pale birds with normally colored but pale plumage everyone agrees are leucistic."
Therefore, our white, pink-eyed bird must be an albino. And my neighbor Fred took an amazing picture, one that vindicates his practice of paying attention as he moves around, and carrying a camera with him wherever he goes.