Posts Tagged ‘Black Vulture’

Canada Geese, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

It’s springtime at the Falls of the Ohio and life is less shy about revealing itself.  Wasn’t too long ago that finding even the most common bird could be a challenge due to the harshness and length of our winter.  Now the spring migrants are winging their way northward and even the indigenous species are easier to locate.  This is the time of year when the pair bonds are strongest.  The resident Canada Goose population appears to have overwintered in fine fashion and it won’t be too long before the first goslings are in the water.  As you may have ascertained, this post will be about one of my favorite Falls subjects…birds.

osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

This is a composite image of three different Osprey that were simultaneously circling my position at the river recently.  The trio were flying in ever-widening circles and taking advantage of the wind currents and thermals.  It’s a thrilling site to observe these fish hawks diving into the water and being rewarded for their efforts with a freshly caught fish in their talons.  I’ve heard about, but not yet seen, the Bald Eagle nest that is just west of the Falls area.  On occasion, I have seen eagles, but considering how near they are to this area I would have thought that sightings would be more common.  I’ve recently seen other birds of prey including Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, and our next featured bird, the Black Vulture is beginning to return to the Falls of the Ohio in numbers.

Black Vulture and dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture feeding on a dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

To my eye, it appears that the Black Vulture population has been increasing while our other vulture…the Turkey Vulture presents itself less frequently.  The Black Vultures are more gregarious and aggressive which probably keeps the Turkey Vulture from showing its featherless, naked, red-head more?  Recently, I came across this individual Black Vulture feeding upon a dead fish.  It let me get quite close, but there was also a minimum distance that it would tolerate me.  Whenever I would get closer to its comfort zone, the vulture would grab the fish with its sharp beak and drag it to where that minimum distance was re-established before it resumed feeding.  We did this dance for a few minutes before the vulture decided it had enough and flew away.  My next bird is one that I have never observed in the park before.  Some of my most memorable sightings have come from species seen just once and maybe for a few seconds at that.  Hardcore birders (they wear black leather jackets with chains hanging off them) are familiar with this phenomenon.  Friends have asked me why I don’t indulge my avian passion in a more organized fashion, but frankly I don’t like the sense of competition that can exist in some of these groups and clubs.  I appreciate that birds are fellow life forms that are inhabiting the same time and space with me and are more than feathered abstractions to cross off on some list.  If you pay attention, birds can tell you much about the state of nature and this planet.

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014


The new bird I recently came across is the Orange-collared Piper.  It’s a shorebird that undertakes  a tremendous journey starting at the tip of South America and it won’t stop moving northwards until it reaches its breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.  Landing at the Falls, it is a little more than half way to where it needs to be.  This piper is a rather small bird and easily overlooked in this particular environment.  Its white body and head look remarkably like the polystyrene that litters these shores.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, April 2014

The bird is so named because it sports an orange ring around its neck.  Other field marks include diminutive size, brown wings, and a sharp yellow bill it uses to probe sand and mud for the tiny invertebrates it eats.  Also true to its name, this bird makes a high-pitched “piping” call it uses while it feeds.  To he honest, I did not hear this call with this particular individual.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Both the male and female Orange-collared Piper look about the same.  At its breeding grounds, the pair incubates about five or six tiny, black speckled eggs in a rather shallow gravel depression.  No fancy nest for this bird…it lays its eggs directly on the ground where  cryptic coloration helps protect them from the numerous Arctic predators.  This bird is considered threatened due in large measure to habitat loss and other environmental degradation.  Its amazingly long migration probably also puts this bird at risk since so many things can go wrong on such a long trip.  I watched this particular individual for about forty minutes or so.  It moved among the driftwood in very careful fashion stopping here and there to probe the sand with its sharp yellow bill.  When the bird decided to move on…there was a flash of wings too quick to see and it was gone.  I hope that it reaches its destination and resurfaces at this park again.  I have one final “bird” that I recorded the same day I saw the Orange-collared Piper.  Perhaps you will recognize this one?  It’s most distinctive field mark is the sunglasses it wears while floating on the river.  Happy birding!!rubber duck with sunglasses, April 2014

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Vulture Boy hung out with me today at the Falls of the Ohio.  He’s a bit of an odd character and I don’t see him often.  He spends most of the summer observing the resident vultures of both species that live here.  He’s studying them. Vulture Boy also thinks of himself as being a bit of a survivalist and when civilization collapses…he will be able to fend for himself by mastering primitive weapons. 

He’s still a boy after all and seems to gravitate towards sticks and stones.  There must be some primeval aesthetic operating here that’s hard-wired?  Regardless, what I enjoy are Vulture Boy’s stories and encounters with the wildlife he sees in the park.  He tells me that he saw some Black Vultures feeding nearby and would I like to watch them?  I pick up my camera and follow him to the river.

Along the way we surprise two flocks of large birds!  It’s another very hot day and both the vultures and Canada geese are taking advantage of the shade under the biggest trees.  It’s cooler, but they are also vulnerable standing on the ground.  Some passing fisherman got too close and both flocks spooked and went airborne.  I could practically feel the whoosh of air pass my face as the vultures struggled to lift skyward.

Reaching the river, we find a few Black Vultures feeding on a fish carcass.  They were completely unconcerned about the people around them.  I wonder in some way if the vultures recognize the relationship between the people and the availability of fish?  Vulture Boy says that they are smarter than you think and adapt to situations that benefit them.

Slowly I move a little closer doing my best not to scare the birds away.  It’s tricky though because the rocks are very uneven and slippery in places.  With their all black bodies, I wonder if they feel hotter on a day like today?  That’s when Vulture Boy lays this factoid on me!  He says that Black Vultures (and other vultures as well) can excrete their waste onto their legs to cool them.  The process is called “urohydrosis”.  Charming! 

I asked Vulture Boy what else he liked or thought interesting about these birds and this is what I remember.  He said that they form strong pair bonds that are usually only broken upon the death of one of the partners.  Additionally, they do not build nests preferring shallow caves or protected rock ledges to raise their young.  Although Black Vultures may roost together, they do not like being near each other’s nurseries.  There is still that competition for food and a pecking order exists not only within the Black Vulture group, but with other species as well.  The shy Turkey Vulture usually surrenders his find to the more aggressive Black Vulture.

With their naked heads and necks…these vultures look more like the dinosaurs they are descended from.  The lack of feathers around the head helps keep things a little cleaner.  Still, I’m amazed that these birds are able to stomach most anything!  I’ve seen Black Vultures using their feet to help leverage a food morsel from the toughest meal.

After watching the river vultures for a few minutes, it was time to go home.  Walking back the way we came Vulture Boy and I could see that some of the vultures had returned to the shade under the trees.  A few individuals were nervously posted along the outskirts acting as look outs.  We walked around them and left them be.  Nearby, we came across roosting vultures  high in a tree.  Occasionally, one of these birds would sun itself by spreading its wings and it seemed almost a reverential act.  Or, at least…that’s what I like to think! 

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