The vultures circle on thermal far above the lake, their black bodies in sharp contrast to the blue sky. As they swoop lower, their crimson heads pop into view, a burst of colour. Turkey vultures. It is migratory season, when these scavengers make their bi-annual trip across latitudes, this time in search of warmer climes. Come spring, they will return north, filling trees and roosting on rooftops on their long journey.

Known locally as turkey buzzards or buzzards, these vultures are found across the Americas, from Canada to Argentina. They prefer open and semi-open habitats, making midwest Ohio a jolly stopover in the grand scheme of things. These vultures roost in large flocks, and are scavengers, feeding on carrion. They seek out dead animals with their sharp eyes from their vantage point in the skies.

My fascination with vultures began in 2014, when I decided to study the decline in India’s vulture populations as my honours research paper for my undergraduate degree course. The more I read about and saw these misrepresented scavengers, the more I fell in love with them. Vultures across the world play a key role in the ecosystem, allowing for the breakdown of organic matter and the return of nutrients to the soil. They also prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases by consuming carcasses, regardless of the health of the animal before death, and killing any bacteria, viruses, and parasites with their powerful gut microbiome. Vultures are also rapid consumers and their presence at a carcass reduces the number of feral dogs at the site. Feral dogs are known to be carriers of multiple diseases, including rabies, which can transmit to humans, and canine distemper, which has recently been found to affect wild canids. Feral dogs are often aggressive, attacking wildlife and humans near carcass dumps, and a surplus of vultures ensures that dogs are dissuaded from approaching a carcass.

I watched the turkey vultures perched on the roof of a guest lodge and admired their sharp profiles. In the morning, when the sun hasn’t fully risen yet, you can observe these large birds roosting in trees with their wings spread out. This is thought to be a technique to warm up after a cold night. When outstretched, their wings appear to be partitioned into a fingerlike pattern. This is a large bird, not unlike the vultures found in India. The vultures, as though sensing my focused gaze, suddenly launched into flight, flapping ungainly until they reached soaring heights and then circling idly above the lake’s surface.

One thought on “Buzzard Season

  1. Wonderful information! I used to observe the vultures on my way to college in South Bombay. Much later, I came across an article that spoke of the forced change in Parsi community’s funeral ritual in Mumbai owing to the dwindling population of vultures.
    Such a vital role they play in maintaining the balance in Nature!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s