They’ve since moved on to riper pastures, but back in June we had a turkey vulture situation. Four big bald-headed birds hung around the barnyard for more than two weeks. This time of year when everyone’s raising hungry babies, we get lots of winged predators hoping for chicken dinner. Liza the LGD stays pretty busy barking at the sky. But this was excessive, the fly-overs were non-stop and nerve-wracking, at least at first.
I was worried they were after my chickens, and so was Liza, but the chickens themselves didn’t seem too concerned. “What the heck!?!” I said to DH, “the roosters aren’t raising the alarm when the vultures fly over!” It was very strange, they were usually so good at warning of danger. We were heading into a hot spell, maybe they were feeling languid in the heat? It was troubling, I couldn’t figure it out.
The turkey vultures spent a lot of their time perched on a neighbour’s stump on the far side of the manure pile. They also frequented the tall poplars overlooking the barnyard, and the Douglas firs to the west of us. Back and forth they flew, between those three points, all day. More than once, when bald eagles turned up to the party, I watched the turkey vultures run them off the place. That surprised me too.
The vulture situation, and especially my chickens’ apparent indifference to it, piqued my curiosity about turkey vultures, so I did a little reading. I learned that turkey vultures almost never go after live prey. (Phew!) They don’t have talons, just sharp beaks. Nature’s clean-up crew, turkey vultures are attracted by even tiny amounts of the gases discharged by their primary food source, rotting meat. They live in family groups and have a wide range. They are big, with a six-foot wingspan, but pose zero danger to live and kicking chickens.
A couple days after the vultures arrived, I clued into why they were there (duh! of course!) The smell was heavy in the air as I swung through the gate into the winter field on my way to feed the equines lunch. There must be a carcass nearby, a fast-ripening one. Following my nose over behind the barn and climbing over the manure pile, I disturbed a couple vultures, who leapt into the sky like swimmers stroking for the surface. And there it was, a big buck, deflated, pongy and snuggled up against the vultures’ stump as if he had sought his final shelter in its lee.
Our turkey vultures finished their job and moved on, and that smell is completely gone now. And so is my worry about turkey vultures and my chickens. The internet says they are no threat and, much more significantly, so do my roosters.