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Bird Ballet Above Martin Acres

A crow (top) gets ready for another pass at the turkey vulture below.

A crow (top) gets ready for another pass at the turkey vulture below.

I was driving down Moorhead, waiting for the heat to come on in the Subaru, the sky flint gray with bursts of clouds running north to south, when I first saw the three black shapes.

Three birds. All pretty large. And it only took a couple of glances away from the wheel to notice that it was two crows dive-bombing a turkey vulture. I pulled over as soon as I could and jumped out of the car with my camera. They were high enough that I couldn’t hear any sounds. I’m not that great a photographer, but I managed a couple of shots, including his one, which shows the larger vulture at the bottom with its white underwing markings. The crow at the top is about half the size of the vulture, with a black undercarriage.

The birds must have found some wind thermal up there in the cold air, and the vulture was soaring in the way vultures do, flapping its wings only when necessary and sweeping across the sky on the rising current. The two crows were flying recklessly around it, coming in from different directions, their wings fluttering as they tried to swoop in close without actually hitting the much larger vulture. (Well. That’s the way it looked. There is documentation of crows attacking turkey vultures, but I’ve never been inside a bird’s brain, so perhaps they were all just enjoying themselves up in the rising air current.)

Their ever-widening circles took them away from me until they were almost out of sight in less than a minute. Jumping back into the car, just thinking about how much fun that (at least) the crows seemed to be having, and marking up my first turkey vulture sighting this early in the year made an otherwise cold, miserable day lighten up considerably.

January 9, 2010   No Comments

Turkey Vultures and Buzzard Hank


I was on my way to meet friends for breakfast Saturday morning, riding the path that bisects CU’s east campus approaching the location called the Confluence, when something caught my eye across the lake to the west.

It was this group of turkey vultures perched high in the trees letting the morning sun warm their wings. I count 13-14 of these wonderful, huge birds. When I first saw them, at least four were opening their wings to the sun’s warmth.

I was reminded that a large group of vultures used to roost in an old cottonwood on the other side of the bike path until it fell in a storm several years ago and is now a pile of old wood.

I am always watching for turkey vultures , and I have seen a lot of them high in the air, especially on the trails near the East Boulder Rec Center, but this is my first good group sighting this year. I was late and didn’t get to spend enough time with this bunch, but what a sight. Vulture wingspans range from four to six feet, and even from this distance, you can see how enormous “buzzards” really are.

Vultures are common migratory visitors in the spring and fall along the Front Range, and provide a valuable recycling function by cleaning up carrion and carcasses otherwise left to the elements. The bald head which many consider “ugly,” is actually an adaptation to its diet, since it has to put its head inside rotting meat and feathers are bacteria-prone.

When I was a student at St. Paul’s College in Concordia, Mo. I was skinny (!), and somehow I got the nickname Henry Hawk, after a comic-book character at the time, and then Buzzard, and finally Buzzard Hank. I found this photo, circa 1966, of Buzzard Hank trying his best to look like one. Do you notice the resemblance?

buzzard hank 2 copy

October 2, 2009   1 Comment

Temporarily Turkey Vulture

So I’m taking out the trash Friday morning, stepping out the front door a few minutes before seven. A couple of ravens or crows (I couldn’t tell) flew right over my head heading south. They rose as I watched them move away, their wings silently floating across the Moyers’ yard.

I walked off the porch, still watching the birds, who were settling into a tall tree fifty feet away, three front-yards over. That’s when I noticed the visitors. Two birds about four or five times the size of the ravens perched on the same branch.

Turkey vultures. I had seen ten of them circling above the CU property south of town Tuesday morning while walking up to the bus stop. The vultures are a part of the springtime experience in Boulder and other areas along the Front Range at this time of year.

I grabbed the binoculars and headed up the street, where I finally got a view of what turned out to be seven vultures in the tree. One seemed to be lying on the limb rather than standing. They were about forty or fifty feet from the ground.

Went back to get Billie, and there we both were, in our jammies, running up the street for the cheapest of thrills. A neighbor bringing out her trash saw us, and looked a bit askance at our attire. I pointed up to the birds. She knew them from living in Ontario. Not exactly fashionable-looking birds, we agreed. But magnificent nonetheless.

Took a shower, and I heard the sounds of our trash hauler coming down the street, sounding like a combat battalion, metal against metal. I ran back out after the truck passed, and though a couple had changed positions, all seven were still there. I saw one flapping huge wings circling for another perch.

I walked beneath them on the way to the bus stop and then caught a last glimpse as the bus took off on Table Mesa. I wondered how many times I had walked beneath them and never even knew they were there.

I was up early Saturday again, but no vultures. Kept watching all weekend, but they never came back. A temporary roost.

April 14, 2008   1 Comment