Vultures In Paradise
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A couple of Sundays ago my friend Ned Harris and I wandered around southeast Arizona looking for subjects to photograph. Our meandering eventually took us to the outskirts of Nogales, a small city that straddles the border with Mexico, fifty miles or so south of Tucson. It was an extremely hot day with the temperature already approaching 100 by about ten in the morning. We took a side road and came upon a mixed group of Turkey and Black Vultures. The vultures were gorging themselves on garbage. Some conscience-free individual had dumped several bags of the stuff alongside the road and the vultures, being vultures, had descended for the feast. There were more than a dozen birds in all, mostly Blacks with a few Turkeys mixed in.
I set aside my disgust, held my breath, and began photographing the birds. At first I turned my attention to this Turkey Vulture, who perched by itself on a dead tree. The bird is easily identifiable by its prominent red head, pale beak, and deep brown plumage.
After photographing the Turkey Vulture I turned my attention to another dead tree, about 20 yards away from the first tree. A group of about eight Black Vultures perched there.
To my eye, Turkey and Black Vultures look very different. Black Vultures have more compact bodies than have Turkey Vultures. Black Vultures’ plumage is truly black as opposed to Turkey Vultures’ deep brown plumage. Black vultures have dark gray heads, easily distinguishable from Turkey Vultures’ red heads. Black Vultures have long, straight, gray beaks with a hook at the tip as compared to Turkey Vultures’ short, white and more deeply curved beaks.
The two species also lead different lives. Turkey Vultures are mostly solitary although they will gather in flocks around a feeding site and during their migration. Black Vultures, by contrast, are quite social. These birds love to roost in groups.
It occurred to me that the location where we found these birds was a veritable vulture paradise. They had plenty to eat on a very hot morning and lots of dead limbs and snags on which to perch. What more could a vulture want?
I’ve often written about my affection for vultures. They are much maligned by many because they are associated with death and decay. Many also consider them to be unclean given their penchant for feeding on carrion and garbage. In fact, these birds are fastidious in their personal hygiene. They also perform a very useful service as nature’s cleanup crew.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 500. First image shot at f8 @ 1/640. The second and third images shot at f8 @ 1/1250. The final image shot at f8 @ 1/640.