Monday, March 9, 2009

Crouching Buzzard - All About Buzzards

As the sparrows return to Capistrano, the Buzzards return to Hinckley Ohio every March 15th! Who'd have thought it?

As often happens when I start researching the topics for the book group, I'm surprised to find out just how much I DID NOT know about buzzards!

First, a buzzard isn't what we think of as a buzzard. A true buzzard is only found in Europe, and is a type of hawk, similar to a red tailed hawk.

What we think of as a buzzard is actually a vulture. There are two types of vultures - old world vultures, found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are a type of raptor (like hawks). New world vultures (found in the Americas) are descended from ibises and storks. The Turkey Vulture Society has a fascinating explanation of how the two types are the same and different.

Vultures do not gather and circle over dying animals. Nor will they kill pets and small children. Vultures soar on thermals, circling to gain altitude. They're attracted by the scent of mercaptan, a gas that forms as decomposition starts. Vultures do not eat live animals.

A group of vultures is called a "venue" A group of vultures circling in the air is called a "kettle."

The Turkey Vulture Society has a fascinating list of Fast Facts, including why vultures, er, excrete their waste all over their own legs. There's a link to the FAQs on that page which includes information about how to attract or repel vultures.

Vultures don't vocalize much. They will mostly hiss. Young vultures will sometimes grunt.

Vultures vomit as a defense mechanism. If what comes out is digested, it's so foul smelling that it repels most attackers. Sometimes a vulture will vomit an undigested meal, so they can fly away from danger more quickly. Many predators will be more interested in the resulting "free meal" than in the fleeing vulture.

There are a lot of different types of vultures. The King Vulture looks like a cross between an eagle, a puffin, a dodo and a circus clown!

I've always been rather fond of the concept of buzzards for a bizarre reason. In high school French class, we watched a spaghetti western that had been dubbed in French. The movie's theme song (sung in English) started "Oh Turkey Buzzard..." We were trying to translate that into French, and the teacher told us that "turkey buzzard" in French is "dindon buse". I'm not going to tell you how many decades it's been since, and I still remember that. The odd phrases we remember from language class... ("Potato Chip" in German is "kartoffel chip" - the Germans adopted our word!)

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