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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Vultures Roosting Among Us

These spooky looking carrion feeders keep the living world healthy

Picture this: A chilly night cloaked in mist with vultures roosting by the dozens on lampposts, in trees behind the grocery store.
    That was a rare sight at Bay Hills Shopping Center, but I see vultures almost every day. Usually turkey vultures, distinguished from their black cousins by red heads and outer feathers of black and brown. They often perch on the signs or lampposts on the eastern approach to the Severn River Bridge. They circle the skies around Broadneck, riding thermals. They flourish throughout Chesapeake Country, fed abundantly by the vehicles our commuter culture depends on.
    Turkey vultures have a bad rap among us two-leggeds, who view them as dirty, spooky birds and fitting symbols for Halloween. Indeed, they are Halloween-fit birds, but for a different reason.
    At Halloween, the veils between worlds are thinnest. It’s time to reflect on the lives of those who’ve passed and to celebrate the cycle of life and death. In Creek Indian culture, turkey vultures represent transformation. A change is coming, and the change could be a death or something else, according to Alabama herbalist Phyllis Light, who is part Creek.
    Her words resonate from a species standpoint as vultures transform the recently living into food for themselves while, at the same time keeping disease from spreading. In this way, they bridge two worlds, living and dead.
    They are exquisitely made for the job, having bald heads (no feathers for microbes to hide in) and acidic urine and feces, which they spray on their feet to protect themselves from becoming diseased.