Thursday, December 6, 2012

Phenology: Crows, Vultures, Cat Update

After several sunny, warm days of "Indian Summer," the last autumn leaves are finally coming down, and this morning's cloudy weather and chilly wind raises hopes of snow.

For those who've asked: yes, I have warm, waterproof, almost knee-high boots. They're not nearly as much fun to wear as these open-toed sand shoes are, but rest assured I'll dig them out if and whenever we get snow...or even a cold rain.

We still have not received the digital camera, camera-phone, or similar gadgets for which the Cat Sanctuary has advertised a need. Perhaps fortunately, we've not received any of the Trailer Park Nuisance Cats here either. There is some chance that they may be permanently adopted directly from the trailer park. However, we could still use digital photography gadgets, on behalf of cats, on behalf of local sponsors, and in order to make these phenology posts more interesting.

The computer shows that some readers are here just for the phenology, and wouldn't youall like to see the flowers, birds, rain-swollen waterfalls, and other phenological phenomena described here? (Admit it...some people have visited this site in hopes of seeing the ugly little animals, too. I can't believe how many of you searched specifically for "swimming woodlouse" and "baby roaches.")

Anyway, today's phenological phenomenon of interest was a flock of seven American Crows and nine Black Vultures. What was attracting these birds to the Clinch Mountain slopes, I'm glad I wasn't on that side of town to see, but the vultures gave me another opportunity to share some fun facts about these very special birds (and send a shout to a very special e-friend):

Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are sometimes called buzzards, or even "bald-headed eagles." They're not eagles. Some ornithologists say they're more closely "related" to storks than to eagles. Bald Eagles received that name at a time when the word "bald" was used to mean "a mountaintop, or something resembling a mountaintop, either by being white or by being bare." Adult Bald Eagles have white head feathers. Vultures, however, really have bare, featherless heads. Turkey Vultures have reddish skin on their heads, like turkeys; Black Vultures have black skin.

Vultures have an unpleasant odor because they are adapted to eat unpleasant things. They can't digest meat until it has decayed too much for almost any other creature to eat it. Sometimes a hungry vulture helps speed up the process of decay by spitting acid on meat that is too fresh for the vulture to eat.

Although there aren't a lot of people who want to make friends with vultures, the birds are friendly and peaceable and can become pets. At Tennessee's Bays Mountain Park, a Black Vulture called Chia has been entertaining visitors for years. If you Google "Bays Mountain, Kingsport, TN" you'll see how many bloggers have mentioned this bird, who seems to like to pose for pictures, as one of the main attractions of this park. Chia was reared by humans, has always been a pet, and probably wouldn't know how to survive as a wild bird. Her official photographer is my e-friend from Yahoo, Debbie Dunn. Click here to see Chia at Debbie's blog:

Click here to see a video of Chia eating from a very brave human's hand. You can tell that Chia has never hurt her humans. The same can't be said for the bacteria that make dead mice fit for Chia to eat...

Click here to see a photo of Chia sitting on the knee of the blogger known as Banjobirdie:

What you don't see, if you search for images of Chia, is how graceful those huge wings look when a vulture is actually flying. Few people would say that vultures have appealing faces, or are pretty on the ground. Only in flight do they become beautiful.

Here are some flying vulture images: