There are Birds and Birds

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

There are birds and there are birds. We watch them closely in winter because in severe weather, faithful bird feeders can actually make a difference between life and death.
And there are those (like Dave) who go out in the meanest wind and consistently keep their feeders topped off with suet and peanut butter, which fuel the furnaces in their tiny bellies and get them through just one more night, and then one more, and again one more.

There is a 10-year-old in Leesburg, Virginia who has suddenly discovered his niche in the world. Don’t know where he got his instincts, but he is all into birds, bird guides and stalking quietly close to birds.
Finally free from the grip of incredible weather (which he and his younger brother pronounced the best winter of their lives) the last of the snow has finally melted, at least mostly, and there is no more in sight just now.

He reports on birds migrating or staking out territory for spring, and has coolly kept me apprised on some of the less common feeder-birds that he knows we don’t have here. While ruby-crowned kinglets, for instance, are fairly often noted here, we rarely have his cousin, the golden-crowned. Samuel the Bold (his chosen nickname) sees goldens regularly and lets me know it, but very gently.
I digress. “There are birds and there are birds,” I started to say, but so are there boys and there are boys.

We were lolling in bed late the other morning when a silent shadow slid down the screen on the porch and not-so-silently landed on the bird feeder just beyond the deck. The one-and-a quarter inch diameter PVC pipe that holds the feeder was swaying, holding its own.
“It’s a crow,” Dave blurted, but followed up with a correction. “It’s too big for a crow. It’s a vulture!”

By now the second vulture tried to grab hold of the feeder, but there really was no room for another bird that size. The first one wasted no time, and started for the suet bar Dave keeps in a little wire feeder. After a few moments he decided he’d have the advantage if the suet was out of the little cage feeder, and it took only one snap of his beak to lift the cake clear of the cage and drop it to the deck below. I suspect this was not his first effort. He pulled it off too quickly.

Much as we hated to break up the demonstration, suet is too expensive to let large carrion-eaters make breakfast of it on our deck.
I’m not at all expecting this kind of pillaging to go on for very long. We’re usually at home and I think we’ll notice if they come back. They are incredibly big. When you see them spiraling above large parking lots like the one at Braelinn Village Center, they look large, but not LARGE. Up close, they are LARGE indeed.
And excuse me for being uncertain about their race. The turkey vulture is the larger of the two, with a wingspan of 67 inches; the black vulture has a 59-inch span. They weigh almost the same, at just over four pounds. Differences in plumage between first or second years, you could easily mistake a turkey vulture adolescent for an adult black.

They had nothing to say – the bird guide notes that they don’t do much more than grunt at each other. Identifying the two at a distance is actually better than at arm’s length, because the size of the tail is pretty obvious (the black vulture’s tail is notably shorter than the turkey’s). And if this doesn’t muddy the waters even more, they tend to fly and soar together, sharing the olfactory skills the turkey vulture has.

Don’t expect me to encourage these beings from another epoch. They have plenty of food sources in this mostly rural part of the hemisphere. They are omnivorous, you see, carrion-eaters. In this, the capital of deer/vehicular collisions, I’d hate to imagine a world without them to remove the carcasses of the unfortunates that we seldom see.
We finally got up and shwooshed the big guys away. Two more were waiting in the woods behind them, and seeing all four climb the wind to the sky was an awesome way to start the day.
Just wait ’til I write Samuel-the-Bold.
{Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]

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