Lessons From a Buzzard Roost

I am not sure when I first noticed the return of the turkey vultures this spring. They are present all year long, with one or two spiraling high in the skies on warm days, but for the last three weeks a colony of more than thirty buzzards circled the skies just before sundown, and ultimately roosting in the woodlands of Ten-Acre Ranch. A couple of neighbors have even asked if there was something dead that was bringing the vultures into the area. I assured them it had nothing to do with a kill or death but if memory served me correctly, everything to do with this time of  year.

Recalling this phenomena, I looked back at photographs from nearly every late March or early April since 2010.  That was the year that I realized the turkey vulture was my spirit totem, and wrote about a profound experience with a vulture in the post, “My Totem, the Vulture“. Ever since that day, each time I see a vulture gliding high in the sky I remember the message of my totem friend, “Glide and soar – leave your carcass of troubles and worries behind”. The reminder has served me well for many years, but lately, a different kind of message seemed to come to me as I watched these magnificent birds circle above and roost in distant trees just before sunset.

This is about the only sunset we ever see since our woodlands are to the west of the house. Still, the orange, yellows, pinks and blues are gorgeous.
View to the west from our back porch at sunrise.
Flying just above the trees, looking for the best place to make a landing.

Each evening I walk a short distance from the house, into the woods with my camera, hoping to get better photographs of the vultures than I have managed in the past, but I come away disappointed. The best I managed last week was a short video clip, ruined when I got too close to the roosting site and scared up the large birds. The noise of their immense wings flapping to lift the great birds from tree limbs was much like the sound of heavy drapes flapping in a strong wind. Deflated at yet another foiled attempt to photograph the vultures, I walked back to the house. But I kept watch for their return – and they did, as one or three at a time circled back, swung around a time or two while just clearing the tops of the trees, then clumsily perching in the tops of the same trees as before. Over the next thirty minutes, more buzzards landed. Though it appeared most had settled down for the night again, one would occasionally take to wing and indulge in flight for no reason at all. As daylight dwindled, each bird settled on a roosting spot, sometimes shifting position a bit and occasionally having a bit of a dispute over possession of a favorite branch. Eventually, only still, dark silhouettes were visible from the back porch, where I now stood. If one did not know any better, the forms could be mistaken for clumps of mistletoe, or large squirrel nests in the trees.

This photo was taken in early April of 2016 of a tree just behind our house. This pecan tree was only used for roosting for a couple of nights in the spring, but later that year in October, vultures came to roost for a couple of weeks. I wish I knew how and why they pick certain roosting areas.
These two may be a pair. They were roosting in the tree next to the big elm where most were gathered.
I wonder if they share information on who found the best carcass to feed on that day?
This buzzard is taking flight after roosting a bit. The branch must not have been the right fit!
It is amazing that such a large bird can perch on a rather small branch.
Some vultures prefer their own space.
Sometimes landing on just the right branch is clumsy and takes a lot of flapping to get balanced!
From a distance, one might mistake the vultures for clumps of mistletoe or perhaps squirrel leaf nests.
This is about as close as I could get with my zoom lens. For some reason at night roosting vultures do not appreciate my presence, but during daylight hours I can walk right under a roosting tree and they do not mind me being near.

The next morning around 9:00, I made my way down the slope with the camera, doing my usual investigation to discover what animals had passed through the woodlands during the night. All sorts of prints and scat along the buggy path and animal trails told tell the story of woodland activity. As I moved towards the area where I had watched the vultures roost the night before, I noticed white droppings directly under two large trees. A single vulture feather lay discarded on the ground, more of a dark brown in color than the black I expected it to be. I looked up, but no buzzards remained. Not wishing to spend too much time dawdling about when I had work to do, I headed back to the house, following the buggy trail back up to the top of the hill. Suddenly, the sound of flapping wings both startled and thrilled me! Not so high above me, vultures took flight, one by one, circling and gliding just above the tree tops. I stood riveted to the woodland path, amazed at their graceful flight while weaving back and forth over the immediate woodlands. Several eventually flew off to the north and west, towards the orchard and river. After a minute or so, I noticed a few vultures remained, still perched above me. Their wings hung partially opened, for whatever reason, which made them appear as if they were prepared to take flight at any moment, but they did not. As moments passed, a few of the flying vultures returned to roost in the elm snag that towered above me. They did not seem bothered by my presence. I wondered about this return – were the thermals not uplifting enough this early in the day? If not, why did some of the vultures fly off in the distance? And then I got the message, as it often just occurs to me – they were waiting for a more satisfactory time to take off for the day.

Now that I understand vulture’s message about roosting, whenever I watch these beautiful creatures fly in for the night, I think of my own winding down and rituals for getting settled in the evenings. Perhaps I have always been too busy with work and concentrating too hard on what I think has to get accomplished before bedtime, that I cannot relax when it is time to rest. And each morning as I watch the woodlands awaken, I remember vulture’s gentle message to wait for the right moment to take flight. And if it does not feel good, or the conditions are not favorable, it is perfectly fine to return to a place of comfort and wait…

© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


31 thoughts on “Lessons From a Buzzard Roost

  1. “…if it does not feel good, or the conditions are not favorable, it is perfectly fine to return to a place of comfort and wait…” That is very wise, indeed, and fits perfectly with another thing I have learned late in life… it is okay to say ‘no’. I love that you have this connection and see the beauty in a bird most people think of as ominous or harbinger of death. That in itself is another great lesson, everything has its own beauty. Be well, Lori. x

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    1. Thank you, Ardys. I think you know how very much it means to have the vultures here to ease me through a time of slowing down a bit. It’s not easy for the mind to adjust – I’m wired to push though. But vulture is present so much these days. I smile every time I see them soaring above. They truly are beautiful.

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  2. Seeing the buzzards in a new light! I love the silhouette. There is a large colony that roosts year round in trees south of our property. Just today I watched them soaring on the strong winds… they appeared to be just floating. They also like to visit our deer water buckets. The first time I witnessed this I was a little taken aback, but my husband said well, they need water too. Occasionally I’ll see a couple at the birdbath… these big old birds perched on the side of it. Good thing it’s concrete!

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    1. Wow! Ellen, I have never seen them at the water. I suspect these get some water from our slough and the old river channel. I’ve seen their feathers in both water sources. I have only seen them gather in large groups like this in March and April, and then again in October each year. They’re just beautiful to watch! Thanks for sharing your experience with them!

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  3. Great read about he vultures. The pics are great too and your narratives along with pics are always so informative. Now ,I think you should take the vulture’s messages to heart and do what they do. Take time to relax and wait for the time that you feel is right to begin your work day.

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    1. That’s exactly why they’ve shown up I think! I watched them again this evening – soaring and gliding over about 20 acres or more for a couple of hours before settling down to roost. I do need to take more time starting the day, and for sure I need to quit stringing out the day’s work until right before bedtime. That’s no way to prepare for rest and relaxation.

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      1. Ok, now that you know you are just about working yourself into the ground you need to heed what you just wrote in your reply to me. I’ve never had the pleasure to watch vultures circling in the sky before sundown. I can only imagine that the experience is soothing and exciting.

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  4. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that in Austin we have both turkey vultures and black vultures. From time to time I see a few in my neighborhood. They seem fond of sitting on the horizontal arms of outdoor street lights, perhaps because they feel relatively safe up there. Even then, beyond a person’s reach, they can be skittish. Let’s hope you encounter some that are more accommodating.

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    1. We have both species here too, though the black ones are not seen as often as the turkey vultures. I have read that the black buzzards follow the turkey vultures to the food, and then bully them and take over feasting.

      That reminds me I think I took some photos of the black vultures in our canyon a few years ago. I need to find those and see if they’re post worthy. I really need to get my photos organized!

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    1. Messages are everywhere if we simply watch and listen. The vultures arrival was timely for me this year… or maybe I was just listening for the message when I needed it most. It’s also wonderful to know there are other people paying attention too (some neighbors), and perhaps what they learn is different from my perception.

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  5. Such beauty,  such wisdom.  I’m so glad that I looked and read –going back to the 2011 post too– just now, and didn’t wait for the right quiet evening or an endless night. No, right now was the best time, an important time for me (following as I do a religious calendar alongside our seasonal one). I’ve not been given a special eye to see what is sacred in nature and to learn from it, so I am so pleased to follow your stories, your visions. It is good that you send them out. That description of your first encounter with these birds 17 years ago is powerful. I think “totem” is an apt word here. It fits with my sense of the mystery of life also. And your comments about gliding and soaring, along with these haunting photographs, remind me of an inspiring poem by G.M. Hopkins (1877), one I learned by heart way back in school because its first part was so surprisingly vivid and dramatic, and its second part went beyond appearances. Here are the opening lines:

    I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- 
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding 
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing . . .

    (Wish I had a better memory today. I’d tell friends and family about the bird that startled, then caught you, and now taught me — and other readers.)

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    1. You piqued my interest with the opening lines of the poem by G.M. Hopkins, so I did a little research to learn more. I finally settled on a website that had the complete text of, “The Windhover” and also gives the summary, form and commentary. I have such an appreciation for those who are masters of the pen… of writing and expression. It was a bit of a study this morning, and I found myself enjoying the experience of dissecting this sonnet, remembering how difficult this kind of study was for me as a young school girl. I now have the desire and maturity to appreciate beautiful prose and the writers who penned them.
      I also liked what you said, “It fits with my sense of the mystery of life also.” Indeed there are many mysteries in this life, and as many interpretations as there are people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Albert. Your perspective is always refreshing.

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  6. That’s a good message to take from the vultures. And it resonates with me right now too because I’ve been feeling stuck with my blog, unable to write for over a month now. I kept trying to force something, but it just didn’t feel right. I’ve been trying to just wait it out, and finally today, I’m writing again! I had a wonderful walk in the park and am writing about the encounters I had with various bird species. So I guess it pays to wait until the moment is right, as you say. 🙂

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    1. I figured you were still traveling… and yes, definitely it’s just fine to wait until everything feels right. Your writing (and photography) should never be a forced thing. The vultures are out there right now doing their evening flight. I can watch that every single evening and feel thrilled each time. There are so many beautiful experiences in this life… listen and learn!

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  7. Beautiful, Lori. And a good reminder to wait for the right moment … when you have the luxury. A pair of turkey vultures come to our pond each spring, and it’s really interesting the displays they put on. They stand on the ground and then slowly extend their wings, with the tips pointing down. Hard to explain, but it’s that iconic image you see on Native American blankets and totem poles and stuff. Really a moving sight from a bird with such an ugly head! 🙂 I like them too.

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    1. This time of our lives gives us more opportunity and perhaps openness to see the depth of the mysteries of life. Being so close to the wild things, you and I are able to observe them daily instead of a happenstance setting. I sometimes wonder if we see actions or tendencies that are not often documented, or maybe at all.

      The vulture head may appear “ugly” but it is really a clever design in nature to help keep clean while eating. I found other cool facts about vultures at this link: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/vulture-facts. I didn’t realize you had a pond! How wonderful to have a water source – a lot of wildlife depends on that!

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      1. I’ve often wondered that too, if I’m sometimes observing patterns that aren’t documented anywhere. Certainly have felt that way about the wolves. I’ve heard there are actually wolf biologists out there who haven’t seen wolves in the wild. It’s a reminder to appreciate the opportunities we take for granted. Vulture heads: I’ve read that too. It makes perfect sense, considering their food source! 🙂

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        1. That would not surprise me about the wolf biologists. We are indeed the fortunate ones who can observe so much of nature. I’m truly thankful for the life I have now. This little place might be located in podunk hillbilly country (which, by the way I’m proud to be a part of!) but what nature has to offer is just out the back (and front) door. I am very appreciative to be in the middle of it all.

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  8. Hi Lori, A very interesting post as we have no vultures. Ravens and carrion eating eagles clean up the country side here.
    Will you need to set up a hide if you are to obtain the photographs you yearn for?

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    1. I have thought about how I might obtain better photos of the vultures in this area. I have tried for years to find vultures feeding off of a carcass, but no luck with that – even though I’ve seen quite a few dead animals over the years. The vultures roost in tall trees in the woods, so it’s nearly impossible to set up without a lot of tree branches and limbs in the way of a great shot. They begin circling overhead about two hours before sunset, with larger numbers flying in just before sunset. I don’t often have two to three hours to burn waiting for photographs!

      I always find it interesting to note the different species of scavenger birds around the world, and the various ranges they cover year-around and also during breeding seasons. We have many birds that clean up the countryside, but the vultures are one of the largest in the Midwest US.

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    1. I see messages everywhere I look. I often research the characteristics of a bird/mammal and try to decipher what the message might be for me personally. Most of the time though, no research is necessary. We are all capable of understanding nature and the gifts it has to offer – we simply need to be open to the experience.

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