Posts Tagged ‘black vulture’

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are not that common in West Virginia. The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is much more common.  The way you tell them apart is that turkey vultures have a longer wingspan and all the flight feathers are light-colored. Only the flight feathers towards the tip are light-colored on black vultures.

I came across a flock of four black vultures that were cruising in the sky with a single turkey vulture, and then I realized I hadn’t photographed this species before. So took a few photographs.

So here are my first photos of a black vulture. They aren’t the best photos, but they are pretty cool to me.





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One of the most interesting things about the American right these days is how openly they embrace all sorts of intrigues and conspiracies. Perhaps the most absurd is the one about the government intentionally causing tornadoes to bring about both socialism and the New World Order!

But this stuff is actually old hat.

Anyone who has ever followed predator reintroduction politics in Western countries knows that conspiracy theories are rampant among those who oppose predator reintroduction.

These sentiments are well-known in the American West, where wolves are accused of killing everything, including grizzly bears.

But it’s not just confined to the United States, zoologist Lars Thomas writes about the situation in Denmark, which currently under an invasion of wolves wandering up from Germany. By “invasion,” I mean the odd dispersing young wolf has crossed through Schleswig-Holstein into the Jutland Peninsula.  Thomas writes:

Wolves have been a big issue in Denmark for several months now – for the first time in 200 years we now have wolves living in our little country – two of them to be exact. But unfortunately all the loonies have started to come out of the woodwork as well. Some people seem to have their knowledge of wolves from the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and we have been subjected to all kinds of paranoid and hysterical ramblings from people who are now too frightened to take a walk in their local wood, from politicians who are certain the wolves have been released by biologists as part of some kind of underhanded scheme to suppress people living in rural areas.

That’s exactly what we have over here.

And it’s not just confined to the West.

In my home state, we have little weekly newspapers that include local columns. Most of these are just ramblings about one’s neighbors have been up to, and if you’re not in the community, you really don’t get all the intricacies  and vagaries that are contained in the lines. Most talk about how many people were at the community church.

Very few get political.

In my home county, there is one of these weekly columns that does get political.  It’s basically all the local stories mixed the distillations from the bizarre World Net Daily website. It also includes examples of great zoological erudition.

For example:

The snow went away and the turkey buzzards returned and the spring peepers are now peeping. Speaking of buzzards, one fellow noted that one of the invasive, non-native black buzzards had a wingspan of 56″. The black buzzards pick out the eyes of newborn calves, lambs, etc. and also target people.

Calling New World vultures “buzzards” is one of those Americanisms that drives me batty. It’s on the level of Canadians calling a Richardson’s ground squirrel a “pocket gopher,” when it’s clearly not a gopher at all. It’s a squirrel, not really all that different from a prairie dog, which is also a ground squirrel.

But there are so many, many errors here. Black vultures are native to the Virginias. However, they are very uncommon west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is where 99.9 percent of West Virginia is located. (John Denver never looked at a map.)

In recent years, there have been a few vagrant flocks of black vultures that have popped up here and there. The only ones I’ve ever seen here were in a tree at the edge of a pasture just outside the little town of Glenville, West Virginia in the spring of 2005.  There were about a dozen of them, and of these, two were walking around in the open where I could get a good glimpse of them as I drove by.

Many people assume that because black vultures do engage in predatory behavior and do sometimes target livestock, such as newborn lambs and calves, that they are larger than the much more common turkey vulture. However, in reality, turkey vultures tend to be slightly larger than black vultures.  A turkey vulture can have a wingspan of up to 72 inches, so a vulture with a wingspan of 56 inches would be a smaller vulture than normal.

And it probably would be a black vulture.

And yes, they do prey on lambs and calves, and depredations by black vultures on lambs in Texas Hill country have been well-documented as a major problem for sheep producers.

However, they don’t target people.

You’d have to be quite paranoid to think that at any moment a giant bird is going to drop out of the sky and carry you away.

As African-derived primates, this is a fear for which we had some justification in our evolutionary past.  The famous Taung child was believed to have been killed by a prehistoric African crowned eagle, whose relatives still hunt monkeys in Africa today.

But for modern Americans to fear a vulture that only attacks newborn calves and lambs is probably one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. Do you realize how much bigger a person is than a black vulture?

Of course, he doesn’t leave his paranoia with the “black buzzards,” the avian black helicopters.

No, he thinks Eastern coyotes, which wandered in here from New England and Eastern Canada after cross-breeding with relict populations of wolves, were actually introduced by the insurance companies in an attempt to reduce deer-related collisions with automobiles.

The other day a cattleman went out to check on his herd and noticed that one of his favorite cows, who happened to be expecting, was missing. He went on a hunt and found her with a fine new calf in the woods but she and the calf were worn out as three coyotes were circling looking for a tasty meal. A Mr. Remington equalized one of the exotic varmints and the other two fled the scene as they knew they would have an allergic reaction to hot lead. Someone else noted that they trapped one that had an ear tag that said “Property of State Farm Insurance”.

Coyotes are not “exotic varmints” at all. During the Pleistocene, large coyotes were common in West Virginia, and there is at least some historical evidence to suggest that some form of coyote may have existed in the Eastern US before being extirpated with the wolves.

And if anything, the coyotes haven’t done a very good job at reducing deer populations.

And this fact, of course, wasn’t missed by The Creston News.

One local resident saw one of the wolves that had been turned lose locally. He tried to shoot it but the shot was too long and the varmint escaped. One fellow noted that someone in the DNR was given millions by insurance companies to turn the wolves loose to kill the deer that were causing car wrecks. Earlier they had tried the coyotes but they didn’t do the job well enough.

So now we have wolves!

(We actually don’t).

This sort of folk zoology is what I call the Dale Gribble school. It’s not based upon science. Instead, it’s based upon a certain amount of paranoia that experts, who are suspected of being Marxists or liberals or Illuminati types, are using predator reintroduction to end the rural way of life.

Rural life in America and Western Europe has essentially been destroyed.

So few people in this countries live in rural areas that it is difficult to understand why people are so against predators.

Part of the reasons are rational:   Coyotes, wolves, and black vultures do kill stock, and in some areas, wolves and coyotes have been implicated in reducing the populations of some prey species.

But these reasons take on a theater of the absurd when they get mixed in with rural cultural politics.

Many people in traditional rural areas see their entire world falling apart before their very eyes.

It’s outsider liberals in the cities who want to take their guns, let the gays marry, and reject Christianity and “family values.”

The predators become scapegoats for that anger.

And the animals as biological entities simply are not seen for what they are.

They are seen for what they represent.



And Ecothugs who just want to end all that is decent in the world.

It is nothing more than the culture wars’ ecological front.













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American black vultures are coming to eat your babies.

American black vultures are coming to eat your babies.

American black vultures are generally creatures of the subtropical South. They are far more widespread in Latin America than they are in the US, and most people who live north of Virginia have never heard of them. That is, until now.

For some reason, perhaps climate change, the black vultures are gradually working their way northward. Some have been spotted a little north of their current range, which is thought to be constricted mainly south of New York state.

In my home state, however, these birds are becoming more and more common.

This would not be such a big deal if they were like the turkey vulture, a related species that nests throughout the Americas, including parts of Canada. The turkey vulture has a wonderful sense of smell and can smell dead things deep within the forest. It is a larger bird than the black, but its habits are essentially benign. Just don’t go near their nests, or they’ll vomit on you. They also defecate on their legs to keep themselves cool in the summer.

But the black vulture is also a predator. It is perhaps best known from nature documentaries where it lands on beach in Costa Rica where rare sea turtles have laid their eggs. As the little turtles hatch, the black vultures (and the dogs, coatis, coyotes, crabs, and villagers catch them for dinner). In my neck of the woods, though, the animal is a threat to livestock. They are much more of a threat to lambs and kids than calves.

But my guess is that people will start shooting both species of vulture, albeit illegally. All vultures in the US, including the endangered California condor, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It’s going to be a shame, because the turkey vulture isn’t any kind of threat to anything. The juvenile turkey vulture, though, has a black head, which means it’s in big trouble.

I hate to see any animal persecuted just because it gets in the way of some human enterprise or is thought to be in the way of a human enterprise. But this is how people behave in this day and age. I still hear horry horror tales about what coyotes do– they’ll eat your golden retriever, they say (hasn’t happened in all the years I’ve had golden retrievers running in the woods with coyotes) or they’ll eat someone (definitely hasn’t happened yet).

BTW, I should tell you that New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures. There is an Old World black vulture, but it is not the same species we have here. Old World vultures are related to hawks and eagles. New World vultures are far more closley related to storks (and if you ever seen a wood stork, you can see the resemblance). These New World species are derived from scavenging storks that specialized in eating carrion. The black vulture still has the stork’s hunting ability, while the condors and the turkey vultures have lost it.


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