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June 07, 2007

Im N Ur Yard, Eetin Ur Ded Rakoon


Yes, indeed, there's a dead raccoon in the yard (actually right over the property line in my neighbor's yard; even so), and here's one of the local turkey vultures, doing that whole "circle of life" thing and getting rid of it for me. You can see the object of its affections in the bottom right corner; I have a somewhat clearer shot of the corpse, but I assure you that you don't actually want me to post it. It's kind of messy.

Between this and the other turkey vultures in the area, I don't expect the corpse to last the day, which is, of course, just fine with me. All I have to do is keep the dog and cats away from it and we'll be fine. It's the dog I'm worried about the most; Lopsided Cat followed me out to the thing and was profoundly disinterested in it (he prefers to do his own killin', thanks), but this is the sort of thing Kodi will dig. I'd just as soon not have her reeking of decomposing wild life. So go, turkey vultures, go.

Posted by john at June 7, 2007 03:10 PM

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Jeff Hentosz | June 7, 2007 03:46 PM

I speak for the departed: "I'm in ur grass, feed'n ur ugli bzzrdz."

Anyway, forget the raptors and the dog — grab up what's left and get your feed on, boy! Them's good eatin'. (Er, so I'm told. I actually accepted an invitation to a raccoon dinner a few months ago. It was, thank God, called on account of the Valentine's Day snowstorm.)

Douglas | June 7, 2007 03:56 PM

How slow a raccoon are we talkin' here? Or rather how fast a riding lawn mower?

From the mower striping it looks like some local SF author--or author's neighbor--did the killing.

Can raccoons even die of old age?

John Scalzi | June 7, 2007 04:03 PM

If I ran over the animal, there wouldn't be that much of it left.

Trust me on this one.

Don't know how this particular animal bought it.

rick gregory | June 7, 2007 04:10 PM

Sorry, but I'm bemused by the phrase "turkey vulture." Is this the result of a recombinant DNA experiment gone wrong?

"Oh, yes, we're trying something new this Thanksgiving... you've heard of wild turkey? Well..."

Clay | June 7, 2007 04:17 PM

My neighbor killed a groundhog with his riding mower. Even buried, his dog dug up the thing and brought some stinkin' chunks back for dinner. You definitely don't want to have the dog involved, especially when you consider that splintered bone and canine digestive systems not equal BFF.

Lisa | June 7, 2007 04:21 PM

We had a deer die in the back corner of our yard one winter, and by spring its bones were scattered wide and far.

Janice in GA | June 7, 2007 04:23 PM

I have been seeing a lot more turkey vultures (we call 'em buzzards, or turkey buzzards) in suburban neighborhoods than I ever used to see. I don't know how to account for this. It was always common to see them cleaning up dead critters on rural roads. But seeing a big old turkey buzzard in a moderately upscale neighborhood here just north of Atlanta causes me a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

Patrick | June 7, 2007 04:25 PM

Rick, they aren't nearly as bad as the dreaded Ohio Squirrel Vulture.

Tom Scudder | June 7, 2007 04:59 PM

So, here's someone who taped a digital camera to their cat and posted the pictures. (via James Nicoll, which means scalzi has probably already seen it).

John Scalzi | June 7, 2007 05:00 PM

Yeah, I've seen it. I'm gonna post about it at By The Way tomorrow, I think.

WaywardSailorGirl | June 7, 2007 05:13 PM

That is a fantastic journey through the day in the life of a cat!

Steve Buchheit | June 7, 2007 05:18 PM

A farming neighbor of our Village Hall killed a whole pasel (20-25)of raccoons three-years ago, piled them in his back field and let the turkey vultures feed. It's three-years later and those vultures still are hanging out at his farm. I guess they're waiting for the manna again. After meetings, when we leave you can see three or five of them walking around his fields until the corn gets to high to see them.

Christian | June 7, 2007 05:31 PM

Tom -

The cat/camera thing was simply brilliant, and promptly bookmarked!


Theresa | June 7, 2007 06:40 PM

"turkey" vultures. What an apt (apparently valid, as visually proven) yet tragic name. The raw animality that vultures are usually associated with are denied them. They must be pissed; I would be.

Buck | June 7, 2007 07:21 PM

Janice in GA:

The reason you're probably seeing buzzards in upscale Atlanta neighborhoods whereas you only used to see them in rural areas is because the upscale neighborhoods are built in what was only a few years ago, rural areas.

Although the truth is, here in the Detroit area, I'm seeing a lot more larger birds: hawks, herons, archeopteryces, etc. so maybe is has something to do with DDT finally working its way out of their food chain.

Jim Wright | June 7, 2007 07:56 PM

Funny that you should post this. Just yesterday friends and I, hiking the Crow Creek Pass portion of the old Iditarod Trail, saw a pair of golden eagles attack and kill a young Dall sheep by knocking it down a cliff. Then they ripped it to pieces. Then a honking big grizzly came to the feast (we were safely 500ft above the event across the valley, though the dog stayed very close to me for the rest of hike). Cycle of life, ain't it grand?

One thing to note: the Golden Eagles were much more impressive than that turkey vulture you've got there, Scalzi. That is one ugly-ass bird.

Janiece | June 7, 2007 07:57 PM

Rick Gregory:

Live and learn: http://www.audubon.org/bird/BoA/F1_G1b.html


AliceB | June 7, 2007 08:25 PM

For my dog, I'd have to hose the area down after the turkey vultures were done: she just loves to roll in any stink, the viler the better. Days old smudges of dead raccoon would definitely rank among her favorite colognes.

Rob B | June 7, 2007 09:40 PM

I saw two turkey vultures hanging out on my chimney one afternoon. A couple of weeks later I got the chiney cappped and cleaned and lo and behold a dead bird was found inside the chimney.

Those turkey vultures are big and ugly.

Cassie | June 7, 2007 09:53 PM

Up in northeastern Ohio, Buzzards are sacrosanct. We have a holiday for them in Hinckley which is celebrated by eating pancakes. Buzzards continue to decorate our bumpers. Forget the cardinal up here: in NEOhio, the state bird is the buzzard.

Steve Buchheit | June 7, 2007 10:45 PM

Jim Wright, Golden Eagles are much larger, too. They don't stick around in Ohio, but I've seen them here. In a park just south of Dayton (when we lived in Oxford) we came across two ripping apart a large road kill (I think it was a deer) just down from the ranger station. We pulled in the station and told the rangers there about the sight. They repeatedly tried to tell me they were turkey vultures.

Hmm, let me see, golden brown plumage, even over the head, almost 3 feet tall, wing shape of raptor (beating wings in agitation when we drove passed), friggin' huge birds. Yeah, not vultures.

But there is something to seeing twenty to thirty buzzards trying to catch a thermal together that is amazing (lots of farms around where I live). But then, seeing eagles is also special (we have a few Bald Eagles around us).

Jim Wright | June 7, 2007 11:23 PM

"...But then, seeing eagles is also special (we have a few Bald Eagles around us)"

Steve, when I lived in the lower 48 I enjoyed my occasional bald eagle sighting, here in Alaska it's sort of a different story. I see them all the time, in fact I can see two soaring above the valley below my house right now. I love seeing them riding the thermals or perched in a Sitka spruce eyeballing the world below - but, it's not so impressive when 5 or 6 of those big suckers are tearing through your trash like the scavengers they really are. Around here you need to keep the trash cans in the garage. Also, last year one of the wife's cats got out and was immediately hit by an eagle - a clumsy eagle apparently since the damned cat lived and cost me over $1000 in repairs. That cat stays indoors now, period, and watches the eagles through the sunroom glass with pure hatred in his little green eyes. This tickles me to no end.

Dot | June 8, 2007 02:33 AM

Quite a nice picture. I actually think the turkey vulture looks graceful with the wings spread out like that.

Tania | June 8, 2007 02:59 AM

I appreciate scavengers. Who wants hunks of rotting dead stuff hanging around?

I also extend my respect and admiration to Lopsided Cat, mighty hunter and protector of the Scalzi-stead.

Yeah, he didn't take down the raccoon, but could have.

A.R.Yngve | June 8, 2007 05:23 AM

I just thought of something. How come that in zombie horror movies, you never see any vultures?

Steve Buchheit | June 8, 2007 07:45 AM

Jim Wright, we used to get Alaska Magazine. I remember an article where the author refered to his cat as "Eagle Bait." I sometimes call my own feline "Hawk Bait" (we have more hawks, Red-tailed, Sharp-shin, and Marsh) around here.

Nick | June 8, 2007 09:23 AM

If the raccoon just dropped dead for no apparent reason (as opposed to staggering away from a sudden encounter with a car), then there is a reasonable chance that it had rabies. Here in central NC, the raccoon account for 80% of diagnosed cases of rabies.

I'm not sure how long the virus can remain intact in decomposing neural tissue, but do keep the pets away from it -- and Athena too, if she is inclined to poke dead things with sticks. I only have a son, so I don't know if little girls as quite so fascinated with gross.

alkali | June 8, 2007 10:17 AM

Buck writes:

The reason you're probably seeing buzzards in upscale Atlanta neighborhoods whereas you only used to see them in rural areas is because the upscale neighborhoods are built in what was only a few years ago, rural areas.

That's a fair point, but there is at least some basis for thinking that for whatever reason the turkey vulture is becoming more common even in rural areas. By way of example, that bird is now commonly seen in Massachusetts, but was pretty much unknown there before the 1970s.

Nick | June 8, 2007 11:27 AM

By way of example, that bird is now commonly seen in Massachusetts, but was pretty much unknown there before the 1970s.

Did Turkey vulture populations suffer from DDT poisoning like other raptors? If so, perhaps they are just bouncing back to healthy levels.

Laurie Mann | June 8, 2007 12:10 PM

I never saw a turkey vulture except in old Warner Brothers cartoons. I always thought they were animals you'd see only in the West.

However, we were in Virginia a few weeks back, just outside of Monticello. There was a large, mishapen turkey by the side of the road, picking at carrion. I was driving, so I said, "What the hell is that?"

Jim got a better look and said it was a turkey vulture.

We see live turkeys quite a bit in rural Pennsylvania. The bird we saw in Virginia had the body of a turkey, but the head was larger and just looked wrong. The longer beak is the real giveaway.

Nick | June 8, 2007 12:51 PM


I'm surprised that you don't see turkey vultures in your part of rural Pennsylvania. Perhaps you do and don't realize it? When I lived in Bucks County, PA during the 1980s, Turkey vultures were easily the most common bird of prey. They were a very common sight soaring on thermals, and just down the road was a large sycamore that served as a communal roost for dozens of the birds. They were also common around State College when I was at Penn State.

If you ever see large birds circling overhead and only rarely flapping their wings, then they are probably turkey vultures or red-tailed hawks, but my money is on turkey vultures.

Camron | June 8, 2007 01:09 PM

I wish I was a quick on the uptake with the camera as you are! Just two weeks ago I had two Golden Eagles in my magnolia tree in the front yard - a first for me, as we live in a fairly urban area of Richmond, VA. Whatever the reason, receding DDT or what have you, it was rockin' to see them!

Laurie Mann | June 8, 2007 01:32 PM

Nick, I always thought they were very large crows or maybe even eagles. But, maybe you're right. I'd just never seen one on the ground and kind of up close like that.

Samuel Tinianow | June 8, 2007 02:25 PM

Don't have the source on me, but recent DNA analysis has shown that Turkey Vultures are more closely related to storks than vultures.

"Here's a topic: Turkey Vultures are neither turkey nor vultures. Discuss."

p.s. They're not buzzards either; there aren't any buzzards in North America. Despite my love for large birds, I'm disappointed in them for being so full of LIES.

MWT | June 8, 2007 05:33 PM

Sounds like the "Spanish moss" we have hanging on the trees down here on the southeast coast, which is neither Spanish nor moss... However, turkey vultures are indeed vultures. There are Old World vultures and New World vultures (which also includes black vultures and California condors). The whole family of vultures are closely related to storks.

As for identifying turkey vultures. In flight, their wings make a V shaped pattern, they flap infrequently, and sometimes seem to wobble in the air. The difference between turkey vultures and black vultures is that turkey vultures have red heads. Osprey wings make an M shape. Hawk wings are just flat. Up close, they are a lot larger than crows, and you can recognize them via their naked wrinkly heads.

I've seen wild turkeys before too, and to me they look nothing whatsoever like vultures. They're way taller, for one thing, and their feathers have many more colors to them than black.

Madeline F | June 8, 2007 06:15 PM

I really like turkey vultures. You see them all over the place over the highways of the Bay Area (particularly the South Bay, where wild hills to nest in are close at hand). They're very pretty in the sky with their crisp black and white Tau Cross thing, and their great wingspans. When I hang glided, we'd always be peering out of the windows as we drove to see if there were good thermals by seeing if birds were getting up... Turkey vultures are good markers of air activity. If the turkey vultures are flapping, the thermals are way too sucky for a human to stand a chance.

Peter D. Tillman | June 8, 2007 07:38 PM

As migration approached, two elderly vultures doubted they could make
the trip south, so they decided to go by airplane. When they checked
their baggage, the attendant noticed that they were carrying two dead raccoons.

"Would you like to check those raccoons too?" he asked.

"No, thanks," replied one of the vultures. "They're carrion."

Jon H | June 9, 2007 06:52 PM

Hm. Bacon. Cat. Vultures.

Mr. Scalzi got some 'splainin to do.

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