The Landing of the Vultures
Updated: Feb 18, 2018
Have you ever watched the crowd in a football stadium do the “wave?” One section of the crowd stands up and sits down, then the next section, then the next. The result looks like a wave that washes around the entire stadium. This is exactly what the vultures do when they land in my trees to spend the night during their biannual migration. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have them pick this spot for one of their overnight stops, but they have been doing it for a very long time. Vultures are big birds with red bald heads, a wing span of 6 feet, 2 feet tall standing, and only weigh 5 pounds.
Flapping those big wings takes a lot of effort, but they are the master soarers of the raptor world, effortlessly gliding on air currents and thermals for long periods of time. A flock of vultures is called a venue, and a group circling in the air is called a kettle. When they arrive to spend the night, it is quite an event. They land one by one in the tree tops, and even though they do not have voice boxes, the flapping of these gigantic wings creates quite the commotion. Just when one gets comfy on a selected branch, another one will land close by, which causes the first one to slightly lift off its branch. Then they both settle down together. The next one landing will cause the first two to lift up. On and on this goes until they all get settled for the night.
There used to be over 200 at a time, so not only did it take over an hour for this process to complete, but all of them were constantly lifting up and down together as each new one was landing - truly an amazing sight to witness this landing of the vultures. Considering that they migrate as far north as Canada and as far south as South America, it’s no wonder they need a few over night rests. They stay for one night only.
They never touch the ground or eat or drink while they are here. When I get up the next morning they are all still there, perched in their spots from the night before, waiting for the sun to rise and the air to warm, because this is what they need for take off. As the thermals pick up, the first one lifts off and starts doing wide low circles over the top of the resting venue - sometimes as many as 20 slow circles around, like a “time to go” signal. One by one, each of the vultures lifts off to join this low circle, forming the “kettle.” Right above the tree tops, this magical and wondrous circle builds until all have joined up, and then starts rising and rising to a great altitude, until these giant birds look like little dots in the sky. Then the leader heads the entire venue in to a flight path, and they are on their way again. There has not been one time of witnessing this ascension that I did not stand there in awe, with tears streaming down my cheeks, watching long after I couldn’t see them in the sky any more.
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