Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The ugly hissing fuzzies

 Photo: Chris Thompson

An old log, like many logs on the forest floor. But this one harbors a secret.

While hiking in their Shelby County woods last summer, Chris Thompson and his wife Jennifer were surprised to hear some ferocious hissing; Jennifer likened the sound to that of an irate dragon. Fortunately they didn't run the other way, but instead investigated the origin of the strange sound.

Jennifer and Chris traced the noise to this log. I suppose that the last thing most people would do is attempt to peer into the hollowed out log to see the "dragon", but fortunately for us, Chris and Jennifer did. Not only did they discover the origin of the fearsome sound, the "dragons" returned to the same log this year, and Chris just sent along the two photos that accompany this post.

Photo: Chris Thompson

Here's the hissers - juvenile Turkey Vultures! They're just about as ugly as a mud fence. Their monsterlike appearance, coupled with the loud hissing, probably serves to keep any would-be predators at bay, not that too many things would actually want to dine on young vulture.

A popular myth has it that young vultures will "projectile-vomit" - forcefully spew a toxic brew of partially digested nastiness of nearly indescribable hideousness at encroachers. They don't really, but at least the adults will vomit on occasion if taken by surprise, perhaps in an effort to offload some weight and facilitate takeoff and escape. I suppose the youngsters might do this, too, but it's doubtful that many other animals would approach them closely enough to find out.

This hollowed out log is a typical Turkey Vulture nest site. The relatively few nests that I've discovered have also mostly been in logs, although I've seen them in rocky alcoves and tucked into barn lofts.

If all goes well for these young vultures, in another month or so they'll spread their wings and take to the skies. While a grounded vulture may look disgusting to some, once airborne they are transformed into marvelous feathered aeronauts. I guess the tradeoff for such fabulous flying abilities is the diet of mostly rotten carrion.

Turkey Vultures are quite common, so obviously they reproduce themselves with much success. But it isn't often one gets to peer into a nesting log and come face to face with juvenile vultures. Thanks to Chris for sharing his photos with us.

If you'd like to read a bit more about Turkey Vultures, CLICK HERE to go to a column about them that I wrote for the Columbus Dispatch last year.



denapple said...

Turkey Vultures are my absolutely favorite birds! I volunteer at Raptor Rehabilitation of KY, and we get young vultures all the time that have been imprinted. People find them like this, think they are abandoned and try to raise them as pets. Illegal and not a good idea for bird or human!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Turkey Vultures are my totem bird too. I would be thrilled to see young ones like these-

Jim McCormac said...

This comment comes courtesy of Mark Boynton, who emailed me about vultures and kindly allowed me to share his observations based on personal experience...

Good morning Jim.
I'd like to comment on your blog posting today. First of all, I love your titles, and this one was one of your best.
I'm must comment on your statement of TV's and their propensity for vomiting.
I volunteered at the OWC (Ohio Wildlife Center) for three years and handled many TV's. First of all, they have a general odor that is just nasty. Secondly, if they get nervous or stressed out, or sometimes if you look at them cross, they will give you a little present. Fortunately I was only exposed to the vomit of thawed lab rats and nothing that was picked up off the side of the road. It is by far one of the top 2 or 3 foulest odors I've experienced. I've worked around some nasty smelling solvents and other chemicals and pyridine gives TV vomit a run for it's money. other than that, infections and that cat that my classmates in anatomy and physiology left out over the summer (can you say maggots) round out my top 3 or 4.

thanks for you intriguing daily reads, keem'em comming.