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Winged migration

Winged migration

Posted By Sunny Lockwood

The Turkey Vultures were kettling yesterday high above my little hillside writing cottage.

About 35 of the big brown/black birds were silently gliding in circles, preparing for their migration south. Kettling happens every year about this time. But I’m always surprised and awed by it.

I stood transfixed as they made large circles against the blue California sky.

During the summer, these eagle-sized birds (with a wingspan of close to six feet) soar silently overhead all afternoon. Sometimes, early in the morning, they land on our roof and, facing the rising sun, spread their wings. For a symbol oriented observer, it could look like the birds are worshipping.

Although their neck and head are bare and ugly, the birds themselves are graceful in the sky and exceptionally useful on the ground. They are carrion eaters, extremely efficient at cleaning up road kill.

Often, when driving to work in the morning, I’ve noticed a dead dear along side the road, obviously hit by a car the night before. On my return home in the evening, all that’s left is the ribcage and a flock of Turkey Vultures cleaning the bones.

And every fall about this time, they gather in large numbers to prepare for their long flight South. Some say the birds fly 4,000 miles.

According to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, they can coast for hours, catching thermal updrafts, circling and rising, then gliding across the sky at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

Today only clouds fill the skies above our rolling foothills. And they are thickening up as our first winter storm arrives.

Here’s wishing the Turkey Vultures a safe and peaceful flight to their winter digs.


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