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Monday, April 18, 2016


Monday, 8:00 AM.  37 degrees F at the ferry dock, 36 on the back porch.  Wind NE, calm with strong, bitter gusts.  The humidity is 87%, the barometer more or less steady, at 30.45".  A chance of rain is predicted for Wednesday and Thursday.  Hope it doesn't snow.
   Turkey vultures, AKA "buzzards,"  have become a rather common  bird in Wisconsin within my lifetime.  I don't remember seeing them at all when I was, say, in my twenties.  In fact, my Birds of Wisconsin book, by Owen Grome, published in 1963, lists the turkey vulture as an "uncommon transient," and its counterpart, the black vulture, as "accidental."  
   Turkey vultures migrate from the southern states to the upper Midwest and eastern Canada, the black vulture are non-migratory.  In any case, turkey vultures do not overwinter in Wisconsin, and I have never seen them in the winter in Bayfield. Neither have I ever seen a black vulture here, although I see them frequently in Ohio.
   Turkey vultures have been evident in northern Wisconsin for some weeks now, however.  They are a large bird and might be mistaken for eagles in flight except for the way they hold their wings in a loose "V" when soaring, and their lack of a white head and tail.  The  bald eagle tail is also shorter and broader.
   The black vulture is a similar bird in appearance to the turkey vulture except for head coloration, and it soars higher when looking for carrion, as it lacks the olfactory capability of the turkey vulture.  The two birds are often seen together where their territories overlap, as the turkey vulture can smell carrion better, but the black vulture has a beak that can rip open carcasses with ease.  Both vultures are gregarious and roost in large flocks.
   The California condor is a third, and very rare, North American vulture species.  Vultures are an important operative in the economy of nature, ridding the land of dead animals that otherwise would become repositories for disease organisms.  The digestive juices of vultures are so strong that the disease organisms  they ingest are killed.
   Every year on March 19th, without fail, the swallows return from South America to the Capistrano Mission in California.  Just as faithfully, on March 15th, the buzzards return to Hinkley, Ohio from the South. Somehow the images are rather incongruous, the one a thing of beauty, the other of something darker. 
   My Aunt Helen lived to be almost a hundred years old, and she always kept a caged canary, which she would entice to sing by saying to it ,"Pretty bird, pretty bird."  That wouldn't work with a turkey buzzard, as they lack a vocal box, and can only emit grunts and hisses.  Besides, they aren't very pretty.
   Buzzards don't get no respect.

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