What’s the deal with turkey buzzards?

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The deal is, I don’t know anything about buzzards. Turkey buzzards.


I mean, I know that they are huge, and are essential to clearing away carrion from the streets, but they’ve always given me the willies. Death is their invitation to feast at the buzzard version of a charcuterie. I did not, however, know that they roost in trees– particularly my trees. Particularly the trees I walked beneath on the way to the barn one evening to do a final night check on the horses.

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I remained blissfully unaware that there were roughly thirty of these fleshy, red-headed vultures overhead, parked at the very top of the poplar trees until one began flapping its wings—wings that create a span of six feet!! A wingspan that is as wide as I am tall—that, in itself, is incredible but, frankly, scared the wits outta me, as the noise was so loud that the very air vibrated. Just as I looked up, another two or three also began beating their wings as they flew to another tree in close proximity which was just loaded with them. At this point it hadn’t occurred to me that they were roosting, I thought for sure there must be something in the area that was dead or dying and they were appearing as nightmarish harbingers of doom.


It was positively Hitchcockian, and with visions of Suzanne Pleshette running for her life, I hurried along, then stopped, and wondered if I should continue to the barn or return to the house. I backtracked a few steps before changing my mind and then scampered forward, not unlike squirrels (who, we all know, are the cocaine users of the animal kingdom), before they meet their demise in front of a car.


Ignorance, I have learned, indeed breeds fear, and once inside the barn, I was able to pull out my phone and google like mad.


It’s amazing how one’s perception can do a 180-degree turn and flip from terror to actual admiration when armed with intelligence. And so, gentle reader, I present to you some impressive facts about the common turkey buzzard:


Their name, in latin, by the way, means, ‘refreshing breeze.’


Okay, that I don’t get…


Turkey buzzards, or vultures, as they are correctly called, are actually related to the stork, and not other birds of prey. How’s that for an icebreaker at your next cocktail party?


They also help the environment by cleaning the meat off carcasses before it rots and spreads disease. They prefer meat that is freshly killed. Now, the way they eat it isn’t for the faint of heart: they thrust their heads into the body cavities of what they’re devouring. But, heck, I’ve seen people at Golden Corral do the same thing and nobody says anything.


Despite their incredible wingspan and height—about 2 1/2 feet—they only weigh about 3 lbs! They can also travel around 200 miles per day and, amazingly, can live up to 24 years. And when they’re seen roosting in the evening, it usually means they’ve arrived in the area that day. So, instead of feeling fearful in the future, I’m actually rather touched that they felt the farm was a safe haven and suitable for their use as a Hotel 6.


And we’ll keep the light on.