Mountains

Scavenging 'buzzards' herald spring

marc meyer/special to the journal

A TURKEY VULTURE surveys the area from the top of a fence post. The vultures return each year late in March and roost at the highest spots in Cortez.

By Jordyn Dahl
Journal Staff Writer

A symbol of doom and death has recently taken up residence in Cortez: the vulture.

Is the bird's arrival a sign that the world is coming to an end?

Local wildlife officials don't think so. In fact, the turkey vultures arrive every year around this time.

The birds typically arrive around April 1, said local bird expert Fred Blackburn.

Three or four "piloting" birds come to town first to scope out the area and then hordes of the birds arrive a few days later. The group leaves in early fall.

While no one knows exactly where the birds migrate from, they spend the rest of the year in the southern United States and South America.

The vulture gets a bad rap and is rightfully known as the scavenger, but it is actually a "fascinating" bird, said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

"They have an amazing sense of smell. They can smell dead stuff from miles away, and they'll home in on it when they catch a little odor," he said.

The vulture has a distinct look: a large, black body with broad wings and a bald head. There is an evolutionary reason the bird lacks feathers on its head. Bacteria and lice won't get trapped in the feathers when the bird is rooting inside an animal's carcass.

The bird also urinates on its legs, a habit called urohydrosis, to kill the bacteria from the dead animals it steps in and to keep the bird cool, Lewandowski said.

When the vultures come to town, they roost in the same areas year after year, Blackburn said. They're typically seen near the corner of Market Street and Montezuma Avenue.

Homeowners may not be pleased to see the vultures once again roosting near their homes because of the mess they leave under the trees, but be forewarned: The vulture is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it is illegal to kill them.

The good news is, they won't attack livestock or pets, Lewandowski said.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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