It’s a bit weird when turkey vultures show up in your backyard, especially while a pandemic rages. Yet, in late March, a couple of turkey vultures started hanging around on the rocky boulders behind our house. As we sheltered at home, the massive birds loitered, preened and flew. With their bald red heads and hooked beaks turkey vultures sure are homely, but to see them soar on broad silver wings is to feel a certain wonder.
Pinau Merlin states in her terrific book Bird Nests & Eggs that turkey vultures scope out a potential nest site over several weeks. Satisfied by the local vibe, they mate and lay two eggs on a sheltered and inaccessible rock ledge. We continued to see the vultures, flying overhead or sitting together, grooming.
The time came when only one vulture was apparent. They were taking turns sitting on the eggs! The shift change was secretive. One of the big birds would fly in and land on a boulder, then immediately drop into the crevice below, pulling bulky wings down after.
Vultures soar endlessly, barely moving a feather. But it isn’t all about grace and elegance, vultures fly to search for food. They are looking and sniffing for the carrion, or dead animals, that make up their diet. These are the trash collectors of the desert.
The eggs were due to hatch, and I was looking forward to seeing vulture fledglings in the next month. But one evening late in May our neighbor Jim sent a text saying he’d seen a coyote prowling around up near the vultures’ nest.
Oh, wily coyote, tell me you didn’t!
The next day one vulture flew in tight circles around and around the nest site. She haunted the area for several days. Then the turkey vultures disappeared.
Turkey vultures mate for life. Only a limited number of adults from the total population will breed in a given year. Maybe these two will try again next year. We hope so.
Photo credits: Turkey vulture head Livescience.com Vulture in flight AllAboutBirds.com