American Black Vultures on Marsh Trail

20160504-IMG_0305 American Black Vultures are part of a family of birds called the New-world Vultures (Cathartidae). These birds are "new-world" because they all live in the Western Hemisphere. People living in the western United States are most likely familiar with Turkey Vultures, another of the family's members. American Black and Turkey Vultures are close relatives of condors plus a few other South American vultures.

The rest of the vultures (those animated in Disney movies) live in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The vultures on Marsh Trail stood out to me for their indifference to my presence. At one point, Johanna was walking down the trail only two feet behind one of the vultures as it meandered along in front of her. Obviously we pretended to leash the vulture and take it for a walk. It didn't seem to mind.

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If you think this bird looks large, you're correct. Check out my 50th blog post for a brief glimpse at a group of vultures feeding on a boar carcass. The wingspan of this vulture can reach over five feet long (160 cm)! Surprisingly, the bird's mass maxes out at just over 4 pounds (1,940 g).

Here's a portrait of one such beast.

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The one thing that we all know about vultures is that they have a propensity for scavenging. The term "vulture" has even become an anthropomorphic adjective for the mooch, gold-digger or beggar. Rather than deducting character points from this creature for taking shortcuts, I'd like to brag on his bravado.

Vultures eat pretty much everything (insects, fish, other birds' eggs, large animal carcasses). Obviously this presents them with more opportunities for food. American Black Vultures specialize in animal muscle and viscera and get this, they locate all of their food without a sense of smell. Even more impressive, their food of choice is older carcasses that other species of vultures have already finished eating from. Pretty rugged.

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They can hunt also. They kill nestling birds and baby turtles. They aren't great fishermen but they manage.

The most interesting thing about these vultures is their social hierarchy. They maintain strict foraging roles wherein there are established rules for activities like drinking and bathing.

Join me Wednesday for Willets!

 

Rivers of Grass on Marsh Trail

20160504-DSCN3400 20160504-DSCN3399 It's not necessarily a sixth sense, more like an enhanced combination of the standard five senses. I'm talking about the ability to find birds and other wildlife quickly. It takes practice. And if you would like to be completely overwhelmed, try your hand at the Florida Everglades. The photographs above are from an observation tower on Marsh Trail of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Look at the second picture closely (if you click on it, it'll enlarge in a new window). Herons, egrets and alligators are apparent right away. But I can tell you that there is a Black-necked Stilt and a sandpiper right in the mix as well. Only a combination of relaxing and watching for some time will help you see all the hidden creatures in the Everglades.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be showing you different parts of the glades. I'm very excited to say that there will be a great number of birds, reptiles, and perhaps some mammals as well.

Here's a tiny taste for what's to come.

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Check in Sunday for ibises of Marsh Trail. It's incredible that so many creatures live near just a tiny mile-long trail.