Buzzard farm a perfect place for vulture study

By TIM BEELAND,

Regular readers of this column will remember that among all the other critters that we herd on our hill in Sebastopol, wife Danny and I also run a part-time vulture ranch. Here in central Mississippi we’re more likely to call them buzzards, but black vulture or turkey vulture is their given name. Black vultures have black heads and turkey vultures have red heads if you are trying to tell them apart.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll just call them buzzards and get on with the story. Every year around late March into early April we raise two vultures — excuse me, two buzzards on our buzzard farm.

We don’t actually have any part in the raising of the big birds, other than watching for the big eggs to appear and then watching them grow from some seriously ugly grayish white chicks into some equally, seriously ugly adults.

The momma and daddy do the raising of them in the same place, at the same time, every year. When we first discovered that we were running a buzzard farm, probably 10 or 15 years ago or longer, they had laid claim to the old smoke house just outside our kitchen door. I suppose, they didn’t like the fact that we had found them and about three or four years ago they moved their nasty nursery into one of the few stalls left standing in the big barn.

When I say nasty nursery, I’m not kidding. Think about it. We all know what buzzards eat for their main meal and when they are regurgitating what had already been basking in the Mississippi sun to feed their young, not to mention all that big ole bird poop, the nursery quickly gets to be pretty nasty. Probably a health hazard too, but they are a protected species!

Enough on that.

I bring this all back up because I saw last week that Mississippi State University, my family’s alma mater, is “inviting the community to report vultures.” Or, buzzards.

It seems that buzzards and airplanes “have difficulty sharing air space,” and the birds are being tagged with bright orange tags by university researchers in an effort to study their flight path. “Scientists at Mississippi State are asking for citizen scientists to report sightings to help determine, among other things, the flight pattern of the mammoth bird,” a school press release says.

Scott Rush, an associate professor in the wildlife fisheries and aquaculture department and scientist in the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center, is heading up the project. Rush says they want to know “how site-faithful” the birds are. I can answer that for him without any further study. Very site-faithful!

The researchers say that Navy student pilots at Naval Air Station Meridian run into (not literally) the birds on a nearly daily basis, “making landing, taking off or any low-level flying a dangerous challenge.” Thus the study.

“Moreover,” they say, “it appears the scavenging bird population is steadily increasing.”

Let me preach on it.

A month or so ago — when we were still allowed to leave home just for the fun of it — Danny and I had been out of town for a couple of days and as we eased back to the house on dusty ole Pine Grove Road the cow pasture across the street from our house was literally (this time yes) covered with buzzards. Hundreds, if not a thousand, buzzards.

I have never seen so many of those big black birds in one spot in my nearly 60 years, and a posse of them had surrounded a new-born calf with the apparent plan of making it into sushi. We called the proprietor of the land and he came and scared them away.

Buzzards, it appears, even huge flocks of buzzards, are easily scared. I can tell you from experience that they try to stand their ground when you happen up upon their nursery, and will run at you, and growl, and hiss, and spit at you, but in the end they will tuck tail and run. Well, they might bite you once if you get too close.

So, now I’m thinking with all the research we’ve already done on the buzzard farm, Mississippi State might just want to come and rent a spot on our hill, pass along a bit of that federal grant money if they get it, and complete the study right there from the front porch.

Believe you me, we’ve got the research materials. Indeed we do. As a matter of fact this year’s two eggs —they only lay two every year — just hatched.

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