A Venue of Vultures

I had the special privilege of seeing one wave of the turkey vulture migration yesterday. The birds kept coming out of a small corner of the northern desert sky, and they continued on toward the south along the Mojave River corridor. Venues (as flocks of turkey vultures are called) gathered overhead, spiraling upward to catch the thermal drafts or perhaps waiting for stragglers to catch up, then that “kettle” would disappear into the glare of the sun. (Apparently these uprising groups are called kettles because they agitate like a boiling kettle.) Then another batch of birds would glide into place, wait for others to show up before they to headed south to catch up to their brethren on their way to San Diego or Mexico or Arizona to spend the winter.

In flight, the buzzards looked lovTurkey vulture migrationely, soaring and gliding like hawks, riding the air currents, then speeding along with just a few slow brushes of their wings (a six-foot span). Since they are also non-aggressive, unable to kill prey, the Hitchcock-like scene was completely misleading. (I never did understand why carrion birds are considered lesser birds, as if their inability to kill makes them evil.)

A flock of smaller birds scurried out of their path (perhaps scurry is not a word that can be applied to birds, but in this case their rapid movements and darting flight made it seem as if they were scurrying).

I must have seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of birds within thirty minutes, but I was so enthralled, I only remembered to takes photos when most of the birds had passed directly over my head, so these photos are pretty lame, though you get an idea of their numbers and the path of their flight.

I smiled all day yesterday. It was nice to be taken out of myself, to replace my funk with something so regal and awe-inspiring as the vulture migration.

Turkey vulture migration


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

10 Responses to “A Venue of Vultures”

  1. pamkirst2014 Says:

    Love the word-ing here–the venues and kettles and scurrying! We have vultures in Ohio, and we often comment that they look like they’re playing, riding the winds…

  2. Constance Says:

    We saw them settle in trees for the night, a few years ago. Interesting sight to see.

  3. LordBeariOfBow Says:

    What a wonderful sight that must have been, it must have been fascinating to watch. I envy you 🙂

  4. Juliet Waldron Says:

    They are migrating here too, and spiraling up in the clear air of warm September. I wrote a poem about them, these fierce garbage collectors who does wonderful planetary work of cleansing. Where I was born, in Ohio, they used to joke about spring arriving along with the turkey vultures–we’d go down and marvel at their stinky selves perching in the sycamores along the Little Miami, covering the ground with some truly disgusting goop. Great post!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t remember seeing any up close, though I must have at one time or another. I like your description of them as fierce garbage collectors. Where would the world be without such creatures?

  5. Coco Ihle Says:

    Pat, Thanks for all the neat descriptive words for something I see every day. I live in a bird sanctuary neighborhood (northwest of Tampa, FL) that has (fresh water) retention ponds spotted all through. These birds will pick an area and stay there for a week or so and then move on to another area. They seem to really like to be near the water and they will sit on the bank with their wings spread out. They are so beautiful and ugly at the same time. I always know when an animal has been hit by a car or been killed by some wildlife, because the vultures circle above the area before settling down to dinner. They are so fascinating to watch. I’ve never seen them migrate, however. Interesting post!!!

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