Nature’s Cleanup Crew

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 5, 2010 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Early morning gathering
Early morning gathering

It was a dark and stormy morn. The rain let up and I took my usual stroll around the yard and smiled at the many butterflies drying out their wings to get the day started. After a walking lap around the pond, I noticed nature’s “cleanup crew” zooming overhead and several made a beeline for one of the snags that I leave in my yard for the wildlife. A snag is another name for a tree that has died but is still standing.

As the skies clear, more gather to dry out their wings
As the skies clear, more gather to dry out their wings

The sun began to shine from behind the clouds and another group gathered on the snag raising the number to 11. They are vultures, not the prettiest of birds with their naked heads and wrinkled necks, but a close up look shows that they are majestic creatures and they do play a vital role in biodiversity.

Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), one of two species in Florida
Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), one of two species in Florida

Vultures clean up carrion, the poor creatures who lose battle to a run-in with our cars and help ranchers by disposing of the cattle that have been lost to nature taking its course and other critters done in by survival of the fittest. I’ve seen vultures clean up a whole wild boar in less than two days. Black vultures are social and arrive in groups, whereas the turkey vultures tend to be more solitary.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) dries its wings
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) dries its wings

They regularly fertilize the plants under my pine snag and although I’m told their “fertilizer” is corrosive, the native plants seem to be ok with it.

Vultures can be destructive at times but they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and under Florida State law. Vulture management is complicated and site-specific, so it is advised that you consult with wildlife professionals to successfully resolve damage situations.

The more solitary Turkey Vulture has a red head and is larger than its Black Vulture cousins
The more solitary Turkey Vulture has a red head and is larger than its Black Vulture cousins

Personally, I have never encountered a problem because they have no need to land on my home or car since I leave snags in my yard. And we have mega-numbers of vultures around my area, yet they only stop by briefly, mostly in early morning to dry their wings for a busy flight day. Providing those snags for them is an easy way to resolve what could be conflict.

I do notice there seem to be a heck of a lot more flying around the neighborhood on trash pickup days. Leaving garbage available is another way to cause potential conflicts, so take the easy route and buy a garbage can with a secure top and use it.   The “less than lovely” plays a part in a beautiful wildlife garden so make the effort to give them what they need or see that you don’t provide attractants and you’ll all be able to peacefully coexist.

Just here to dry wings before a day of cleanup duties
Just here to dry wings before a day of cleanup duties

You can learn tips from Wildlife Services in your area. Check out the USDA Vulture Damage Management Factsheet (PDF).

Oh, and after observing that massive group flying overhead at my place today…would someone please check my pulse? ;-D

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