National Geographic : 1933 Jul
EAGLES, HAWKS, AND VULTURES BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus atratus) The black vulture is distinguished from the turkey buzzard, even at a distance, by its short, square-ended tail, and by the peculiar method of flight in which the wings are flapped rapidly, followed by a short sail with stiffly extended pinions. Large light patches across the ends of the wings form another prominent mark for field identification. The black vulture subsists on carrion, and often gathers in greedy hordes that soon leave the bones of large carcasses picked clean. It is active and aggressive, and at its feasts will drive away the meeker-spirited turkey vulture. It is said to kill young chickens, young pigs, and lambs when opportunity offers, so at times it may be quite destructive. Occasionally it utters a low, guttural note, quickly repeated, that is barely audi ble a hundred yards away. Because of their scavenger services, these birds are seldom molested and often become so tame as to be almost domestic, coming into towns to feed familiarly with dogs on refuse in the streets and barely moving aside to avoid passing animals or men. They often frequent heron and pelican rookeries, where they pick up dead fish be neath the nests, and also swallow young birds left unprotected. The nest is placed on the ground, usu ally under dense bushes, but occasionally in hollow trees, logs, or recesses beneath bowlders. The eggs rest on leaves or on the bare ground. Where abundant, the birds often breed in colonies. Two eggs constitute the usual set, with one or three found occasionally. The color is light green, spotted rather sparingly with brown and lavender. The young when hatched are covered with buff-colored down quite different from the white found in the turkey vul ture. The nestlings are fed entirely by regurgitation. These birds are not known to carry food or any other object, either in the feet or in the bill. The black vulture is found from west ern Texas, southern Illinois, and southern Maryland south into Mexico and Central America, being recorded casually north of its regular range. An allied form is known in South America. TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura septentrionalis) A master of the art of soaring, the tur key vulture or turkey buzzard wheels in the sky by the hour, turning in lazy circles and spirals, seldom moving the wings ex cept to adjust them to the air currents through which it moves to maintain its elevation. Although graceful on the wing, when at rest all attractiveness of appear ance is lost. With broad wings folded against its rela tively slender body, its bare head and its awkward attitude, the buzzard seems un couth or even repulsive. Like other members of the family, it subsists on the bodies of dead creatures, eaten fresh or in advanced stages of de composition. I have had them come to tear the flesh from the body of a dead bird that I had just skinned, and have found them feasting on putrid flesh. WINDLESS DAYS KEEP THE BUZZARD AT HOME Turkey vultures by day cover wide areas in search of food, and at night gather to sleep in some tract of woodland, several hundred often congregating in one roost. In early morning they sit with wings ex panded to catch the warmth of the sun, and on dull, cloudy days, when the air is still, may remain in their roosts through out the day, as without moving currents of air they find flying difficult. The turkey vulture places its nest in some recess beneath large bowlders, in a hollow log or tree, or in sheltered situa tions beneath shrubs. The handsome eggs, usually two in number, rarely one or three, are creamy white, spotted with brown and lavender. Occasionally one is found with out markings. The young bird when disturbed utters a curious growling, hissing call, like some angry cat, turning its back the while and striking the ground sharply with the tips of its spread wings in a manner that is truly startling. The adult is silent except for a hiss made by expelling its breath from the windpipe. The turkey vulture ranges from south ern British Columbia, Wisconsin, and cen tral New York south into northern Mex ico. Closely allied races extend through Cuba and Central and South America to the Falkland Islands. The bird has been introduced into Puerto Rico.