Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Pile O' Meat



Before The Big Sit I had the presence of mind to raid the old chest freezer in the basement for big hunks of meat that were no-longer-fit-for-human-consumption. I wanted to make sure we had turkey vultures swooping over our birding tower on Big Sit day, and what better way than creating a feeding station for them, full of rotting, putrid meat. So I ambled down to our basement and eyed the chest freezer from a respectful distance.

This freezer came with our house. It's huge and full of unspeakable things (just like the rest of our basement).

The freezer came with the house because there was no way to remove it from our house. When it came into the house, there was a garage-style door on one end of the basement. The people who built the house thought it would be great to park their cars underneath the house! Hey kids! Take a deep breath! Smell that exhaust? Daddy's home!

When the former owners brought in the giant chest freezer (perhaps for storing entire herds of deer meat) they carried the freezer right through the basement garage door opening. How convenient!

Later owners built an actual, separate garage and the basement went back to being just a basement. When the garage door was bricked-in the chest freezer, like the Cask of Amontillado, was bricked in, too. If the chest freezer ever dies, we'll either need a chainsaw to cut it up and get it out, or we'll need to pay David Blaine's day-rate to make it disappear.

Now where was I? I was talking about...Edgar Allen Poe, then David Blaine, Oh yeah! frozen meat.

So after removing the detritus of a year or more from the top-opening lid of the freezer, I began digging through the frost-covered items inside. I felt like Dr. Richard Leakey. I found stew bones from 2001. I found hunks of suet from 1998. There were some tuna steaks that last swam in the ocean the year Al Gore was elected President. And lots of hunks of mystery meat that may have belonged to some sort of bovine or not.

It all went into the wheelbarrow and was wheeled out to the middle of our meadow. I spent the next 45 minutes scraping and prying the packaging off the rock-like hunks of meat. As a small pile of meat began to form, a turkey vulture swooped low overhead.

Turkey vulture.

He was checking out the meat dump and making a note to check back later.

This time of year there is so much roadkill that the vultures are living large. Young squirrels and other small mammals are venturing away from their home turf, looking for a place of their own. They get pancaked on our roads by the thousands. The vultures slurp them up.

White-tailed deer are in rut, so one bounding across the road in front of your car is usually followed by another or maybe several others. These road crossers are frequently does and their young of last spring being chased by horny bucks. Many get hit by vehicles, some die. They feed the vultures.

The Meat Bringer.

I knew the patrolling vultures would see my meat pile and eventually pay it a visit. Secretly I hoped it would lure in a black vulture, a species that has only recently been spreading northward in Ohio. And one that we've only seen twice on our farm. Or perhaps, as happened several winters ago, a red-shouldered hawk would visit the meat pile.

Black vulture.

Turkey vulture on the meat pile.

Bald and beautiful!

That evening there were no fewer than seven vultures--all turkeys--on the ground and on snags surrounding the Big Pile o' Meat. They'd been eating off and on all day. At dusk they lumbered into the indigo sky, headed to roost. No doubt already thinking about a nice stinky meat breakfast in the morning.

That night we heard coyotes howling from the fringes of the meadow. And later on, Julie heard what she thought was a huge cat fight. Was the male bobcat coming to the meat pile? We've seen his tracks several places in the east valley, near Beechy Crash.

This is one of those times that I wished I had a night-time game camera to record the nocturnal visitors to the Big Pile O' Meat.

I did place a Wingscapes motion-activated bird-cam in the meadow, not far from the meat pile, but all I got were pictures of myself passing on the tractor, and a few shots of the grasses waving in the breeze. The camera on its short tripod seemed to be just spooky enough to keep the vultures away. And it only works during the daylight hours to save battery life. More on this item in the future.

That meat pile is all gone now. But there's plenty more frozen-beyond-recognition meat in the chest freezer. Think I'll replenish the meat pile for Halloween. Who knows, maybe some zombies or vampires or werewolves will come in for a nibble or gnaw?

For more on vultures and smelly dead meat, check out Julie Zickefoose's "The Vultures Knew" commentary on NPR. And the text of the story on her website.

You can also look forward to Ed Kanze's forthcoming article in the January/February 2008 issue of
Bird Watcher's Digest about feeding a chicken carcass to his backyard birds.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vulture Mystery Solved


While driving through a major city in the American tropics on recent afternoon, I noticed a turkey vulture standing in a puddle at the edge of the road.

"That's strange!" I thought. "I wonder why that TV is doing that?"

I looked skyward and saw another adult vulture, then several more, soaring overhead, just above the roof of a nearby store.


"Is there something dead on top of that roof? Why would those vultures be swooping so low over a store?"

Then I noticed the sign on the front of the building and all my questions about vulture behavior were answered. I always thought that vultures located their food by smell. But now I think it may be because they can READ!

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