Tuesday, December 16, 2008


All Photographs by Donna Johnson

Oklahoma's Donna Johnson was on her way home. She looked over and there was a downright horde of vultures on the side of the road. And like a good raptor watcher, she pulled over, grabbed her camera, jumped out, and started clicking away. And am I glad she did.

My first thought when I saw the bonanza of photographs was, "What kind of vultures do they have in Oklahoma?"

I zoomed in on a vulture with a black face. Black Vulture? There is some red underneath and young Turkey Vultures do have blackish faces. Next. Look at the legs. Are they reddish or pale? Definitely pale legs and a stubby tail. That makes this bird a Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus.

This is a seminal event! We've never had Black Vultures on the blog before.

My second thought? What might all these vultures be up to?

The group on the left is making a meal of a road killed deer. And the two on the right look like they'd like to join the party. In fact the bird on the far right looks prepared to make an issue if anyone tries to stop him from crashing the event. Or is he about to stop the bird in front of him that appears to be thinking about approaching the deer?

Over on the next rise, a group of five looks on. Wait the one on the left looks to be walking forward. Why is there trepidation about joining in. Different family group? Different species? Lower on the pecking order?
The bird second from the left has a pinkish face and a longer tail. Is that a Turkey Vulture? No. Pale legs.
What happened? There are now far fewer birds at the carcass. The two largest vultures, one standing in front of the carcass and the second stepping out towards something, are on alert.
Another group arrives at the carcass. And the posturing bird to the right looks extremely serious and downright grumpy about something.
Now we get a shot of the vulture in front of the mound looking on.
I'm not sure where these 18 vultures are geographically to the carcass but they just seem to be standing around. Have they already eaten or are they waiting their turn?
Back to the vulture in front of the mound, that overlooks the feeding area.
Okay, I get it now. Mound Vulture must be the sentinel so that the birds heavily absorbed in eating aren't taken by surprise.
Here is a different angle. What is happening to the left of the carcass?
Perhaps a portion has been removed and the two birds on the left nearest the carcass are pulling at it?
See the irregular chunk of wood to the right? The line of vultures are on the rise beyond the eating area. Maybe they are waiting their turn.
Yes, I think they are in line for the buffet. Perhaps the Mound Vulture is not only a sentinel but also the Seating Captain and the big guys down by the deer are the Bouncers. There may be more of an organized system than I ever suspected. But then again, I've never had the opportunity to watch a horde of Black Vultures.
Many thanks to Donna Johnson!
Donegal Browne

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great vulture shots Donna J.!