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Michael Bird

The Revenge of the Bridge Buzzards, Part Two!

By Michael Bird

NOTE: This appeared in the Tallassee Tribune in 2019.  Lo and behold, the vultures are back in my neighborhood, and Alabama Power is in the process of running them off!  It seems that we are now experiencing the attack of the bridge buzzards … the sequel!

Some people call them turkey vultures.  Others may identify them as black vultures.

Whenever I see one, however, I call them by their Southern name – buzzards.

There has been quite a bit of activity over the past couple of years for these creatures as Alabama Power was working on improvements to Thurlow Dam.  As one would cross Fitzpatrick Bridge, there is no way you wouldn’t take note of the buzzards, I mean vultures, roosting below the bridge.

Last week, a representative from Alabama Power came by my house with what looked like a starter pistol for a firecracker.  The vultures filled the trees behind my house.  This worker set off his roman candle-like device and they scattered, flew in a circle, and came right back.  He came again to try and run them off, but thus far they are still hanging around.

It’s pretty unnerving to be watching TV in the middle of the day, with the shades drawn – and giant swooping shadows covering the whole room, as if the grim reaper is sitting right outside.

Vultures have a decidedly morbid reputation.  They fly around in a circle pattern, searching for dead and decaying animals to devour.  In movies and cartoons, they are often portrayed as ugly, menacing death-eaters waiting for something, or someone, to croak so they can swoop in.

In reality, however, vultures are very helpful.  After being scared by the Elmore-Tallapoosa county line flock, I did a little research on them.

The only birds bigger than vultures are eagles and condors.  A vulture has a 70-inch wingspan, which can be pretty intimidating if one flies close to you.

Vultures have excellent vision and turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell, which helps them find carrion not only on roadways but even in the deepest wooded areas.  In fact, a turkey vulture can smell a dead creature up to a mile away. 

These birds are often referred to as nature’s clean-up crew, feasting on what others have left behind.  What is most fascinating about vultures is that their digestive system is able to withstand the nastiest, grossest, foulest, most bacteria-filled remnants of a former living being and convert it into droppings which are, for lack of a better word, sanitizer.

While turkey vultures are bigger and non-threatening to humans, the black vulture is a bit more aggressive in its quest for carrion.  Black vultures follow their turkey brethren around and may, through sheer numbers, intimidate or even attack turkey vultures that have already identified prey.

These scavengers will eat just about anything, from rotting vegetables to the eggs (or young) of another mammal.  Their corrosive stomach acid makes it all go down a little easier.  After they have devoured all the things we would never want, they regurgitate it into the mouths of their babies.

I can’t help but wonder what these hissing predators look like as they loom over the Alabama Power workers at the dam.  It has to be a bit unsettling even though the buzzards pose no real threat to humans.

One day, I was working in my yard cutting the grass.  The buzzards began their daily routine, at around 9:00 a.m., circling in the air.  Their shadows seemed to grow larger and I could only imagine I was being marked for death.

And then I remembered one key fact – the only thing a vulture won’t eat is another vulture!  I can only hope that this Bird didn’t look too appetizing to them.

Michael Bird is one of the choral directors at Tallassee High School and contributes “Bird’s Eye View” (or “Vulture’s Eye View”?) each week in the TRIBUNE.