Vultures are an avian clean-up crew, removing carrion from the landscape. When Turkey Vultures circle low, you can see their naked red heads and deeply slotted black primary feathers. With their wings canted in a dihedral "V," they tilt upwind from side to side. The Turkey Vulture's keen sense of smell enables it, even high aloft, to locate dead animals on the ground. Here's Robinson Jeffers' poem about meeting up with a curious Turkey Vulture.
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Turkey Vulture, A Poem
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[Sound of ocean waves and wind; from a nearby cliff. [Chant by Benjamin Britten runs throughout]
Here is poet Robinson Jeffers’ response to close inspection of — and by — a vulture.
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, “My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.”
But how beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice.
I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him.
To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes –
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment;
What a life after death.
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“Vulture” by Robinson Jeffers from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Volume 3, edited by Tim Hunt, (c) 1987 Jeffers Literary Properties (Stanford University Press, 1991). Used with permission.
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* Chant, by Benjamin Britten, from Simple Symphony, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Prelude & Fugue, Camerata Bern/Thomas Furi, Denon, Mfd and Dist. By A&M Records, Nippon Columbia Co. Ltd.
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© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org July 2015 Narrator: Frank Corrado