Florida’s Street Sweepers -Vultures- Clearing the Way for a Healthy Pinellas County Halloween!
We’ve all seen them, and probably have held the same visceral reaction : GROSS! There they are, as we walk or drive by… their heads bobbing in and out the cavities of long dead carcasses on the road sides. It’s not exactly a welcoming sight to Florida’s visitors… nor to our permanent Pinellas County area residents, however, much like bats, these birds are wholly misunderstood – and completely under-represented with good copy! So here we go! Scooter tells us to unwrinkle our noses and wipe off that grimaced expression. This Halloween… let’s venture into the world of Florida’s Vultures!
Florida claims two species of vultures… the Turkey Vulture; distinguished by its red head, and the Black Vulture; sporting an all black body and head. According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Black Vulture may be seen flapping its wings more consistently and may not soar as long as its cousin the Turkey Vulture. Both feed on decaying carcasses and neither are nest builders… preferring a soft, leafy ground in which to lay their eggs. While the Black Vultures are slightly more aggressive than their Turkey Vulture counterparts, during leaner times, both have been known to actively kill living animals that may be ill, young or injured in some way. However, due to poor leg musculature and weak feet, they prefer an easier meal which is more readily gained.
While these feeding birds do take away from Florida’s usually serene aesthetics, their contributions to our shores is nearly incalculable. Like Florida’s bats, at which many of us also grimace, these animals are wholly underrated and not given the credit for what they do nearly enough. While facts are given via local authority and conservation organizations, the details of their crucial role in Florida’s eco-structure is rarely fully highlighted.
Let’s take a look at a few Vulture facts:
- Vultures are social animals, unlike many in the raptor category. These birds group together to roost, fly and feed.
- Vultures rid local areas of carcasses that routinely contain bacterium such as Anthrax, Botulism, Cholera and Salmonella.
- Vultures do not circle prey waiting for it to die. Often they are searching for carcasses on which to feed or may be waiting for a dead animal to soften for easier feeding. (Yes, that’s disgusting but… it’s what they do!)
- Vultures, both male and female, care for and raise their young. Since they suffer from a weak musculature, they do not bring food back to their nesting areas but rather regurgitate previously digested food to feed their offspring.
- Vultures have highly acidic stomach acids which prevents them from becoming ill while dining on food sources commonly filled with sometimes deadly and communicable diseases.
- Vultures are protected under federal law and may not be harmed or unduly harassed.
It is due to this last issue where some Florida residents may have a problem. While Vultures are beneficial to Florida’s ecosystem, they can be a nuisance animal when they decide to find a comfy roosting spot in a residential area. Although not common, it has been known to happen. Since they are protected animals, the most one can do to rid them from your yard is to use small pyrotechnics, such as firecrackers, to scare them off.
Vultures, of any type, are a bit of a disgusting sight… to say the least. They’re among Florida’s most often and most easily viewed wild birds and they carry a pretty disgusting reputation. However, behind the gore and grossness, the gravity of what they contribute cannot be ignored. A large group of feeding Vultures –also called a “wake”– can clear a small carcass in a matter of hours; a larger one in a day. It is this activity, as repugnant as it may be, that these birds should be celebrated and appreciated. They are Florida’s natural cleaners; ridding our state of what could be terrible diseases and preventing the rampant illness that they can cause. So, the next time you see a Vulture doing its thing on the side of a road, don’t grimace. Don’t point and frown… smile! They are nature’s CDC –without the hazmat and press coverage. They are perfect cleaning machines doing what nature intended… clean’in house!
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