I’m back at the library today and, finding myself gazing out the window at this summer’s uncharacteristic blue sky, noted several turkey vultures soaring about. They were circling the Hyde Park Court House, the tallest building in the village with its prominent clock tower. The building is also shadowed by a large radio or communications tower next to it, not nearly as attractive architecturally as the court house, but I’m sure much more effective to the County Sheriff’s department who – I believe – utilize it.
The vultures utilize it as well, although for different purposes than the sheriff. The birds roost on the tower at night, or during poor weather. It’s quite the site, actually, to see a couple dozen vultures, heads tucked down between their hunched shoulders or with wings extended warming themselves in the sun, perched above the court house. Makes me think about a time when birds like them would have roosted in tress, possibly outside other court houses and sheriff’s offices, eyeing the gallows.
What amazes me most about the vultures, though – besides their keen sense of setting and mood – is the fact that they’re here at all. You see, thirty years ago Vermont didn’t have vultures. Heck, thirty years ago Connecticut and the rest New England for that matter rarely saw one. It was in the 80’s that the birds really started pushing into Southern New England, and the rare straggler was spotted in Northern New England, but it really wasn’t until the late 80’s and 90’s that the birds began to become a more common site. Now, they are firmly ensconced as summer residents here and throughout New England.
So, why are they here now? Well, let me first introduce you to the bird a little. Turkey vultures, are for the most part, a southern species of bird. They are the widest ranging vulture in the Americas and range as far south as southern South America and spread coast to coast. As their name implies, they’re a vulture and carrion eater, cleaning up our road kill and other animal carcasses strewn about the landscape.
So, back to why they’re here. It’s simple. We’re warmer now, more comfortable for those southern folks, the birds I mean, to spend their summers here in our less cool north. As we’ve gotten warmer, our summers longer, autumn shorter, these birds have expanded their range north.
It’s happened with other critters too, like the opossum, albeit a bit more slowly than the vulture. With the vultures, though, they can make a quick get-away when the temperatures drop too low for them. The opossums are less fortunate and show the signs and scars of being ill prepared for our still frigid winters. I’ve seen plenty of ‘possums with frost bitten ears and truncated tails due to the cold weather.
But, we Vermonters are welcoming to all kinds, and as long as they wanna be here, we’ll let ’em. I’ll keep enjoying watching the vultures, but still keep hoping for a return to our cooler past, though, and hope they won’t mind the cold…too much.