Everyone has their own yardstick for spring’s arrival: buds on the trees, warmth on the skin, pollen in the nose. Me, I only have eyes for the turkey vultures (not to be confused with the turkey non-vultures who paid us a St. Paddy’s Day visit).
Each spring, the vultures come to roost in the trees and rock outcroppings of the backyard cliff our house is perched upon. It’s a very scenic view we have here, what with the giant water tower at the top of the hill, and the highway at the bottom, and the turkey vultures swooping down to survey the carnage in between.
I remember the first time I saw one flying overhead, casting its dark shadow across our postage-stamp-sized yard, I thought it was a solar eclipse. Naturally, I looked directly at the sun. That’s when I saw it (before the blinding pain, I mean). The silhouette of what I thought was a bald eagle. It seemed so majestic from far away, I couldn’t help but start humming “America the Beautiful.” Weeks later, when my sight returned, I got a better look at him and his cronies lurking around some prime road kill by the side of the road and, just like that, the majesty was gone.
If you’ve never seen a turkey vulture up close, boy are you in for a treat. The shiny black feathers are okay, but the bald, red, shrunken head is a little disconcerting. Same with the hunched, stooping posture. Despite their hideousness, scientists are interested in these birds on account of their unusual digestive tracts that enable them to stomach high levels of bacteria and rot, something the good folks at the FDA might be interested in now that most of our meat has become nothing more than glorified road kill itself. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the results of those studies and their proposed applications.
Still, as my harbingers of spring, I welcome the vultures. They seem to be multiplying. I think cell phone usage is working in their favor.