27 February 2008
In the past six days I’ve been in Florida — looking at birds of course.
By the end of February I’ve had enough of Pittsburgh’s relentless gray skies and cold weather so I visit my friends Chuck and Joan Tague who spend the winter near Daytona. Birds + friends + warmth are such a welcome break!
Turkey vultures are common in western Pennsylvania from March to November but they spend the winter in the south because they can’t eat frozen food. Vultures eat rotting dead things, the more rotten the better. Freezing weather preserves the meat – therefore no rotting – and vultures’ beaks are not strong enough to break apart tough substances, so they go south.
But if it’s possible to have favorites among such ugly birds, mine are the black vultures. They are less shy than turkey vultures, they have timid-looking faces and they are rare in western Pennsylvania. I suppose absence makes my heart grow fonder. I don’t have to deal with them all the time.
Near Daytona there are two places where I’m guaranteed to see lots of black vultures: Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and at my hotel’s parking lot. This has nothing to do with the hotel and everything to do with the fast food restaurants nearby. The black vultures roost overnight on cell towers and pines and coast down to the restaurant dumpsters in the morning. Sweet and shy as they look, I don’t get too close because they projectile-vomit when frightened. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that!
At Lake Woodruff I can get a little closer. The vultures sit in flocks on the dikes and as we approach they hop away, sometimes holding their wings open and skipping ahead of us. They look so silly that I had to imitate them. Chuck snapped my picture.
Oh well. You’re never too old to have fun.
(photo by Chuck Tague)