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Winkeler: Vulture sightings ... coincidence or omen?

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It seems I can’t go outside without seeing a vulture these days.

At first, it was funny. Now, it’s getting just a little bit creepy.

I’m not as young as a used to be. I realize that. The aging process is frequently incorporated in self-deprecating humor. But, vultures seemingly shadowing me? That’s just a little over the top.

Case in point — I was traveling Refuge Drive at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge recently. About a quarter-mile up the road there were a group of turkey vultures gathered around a small roadkill carcass.

Apparently, times had been tough recently. They were nonplussed by the approaching car.

A couple of the scavengers did fly off when I pulled even, but there were a couple that were not intimidated by the sight of a camera protruding from a window. In fact, they hissed and screeched as the shutter clicked.

One set of photos was so close the vulture’s tonsils were visible. (In full disclosure, I have no idea if vultures have tonsils. If so, they are likely visible.)

My first thought was to send the photos to a mouthwash manufacturer. It would be great for an ad campaign — “If you think you have bad breath …”

Then, a couple days later at Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area I encountered a couple groups of black vultures.

The first group were seated on the hydraulic arm of a bucket truck. They looked like a bunch of coal miners lined up and ready to go to work.

Like their cousins at Crab Orchard, they were clearly not bothered by the sight of a photographer. In fact, a couple might have been sizing me up, thinking, “That old guy can’t walk around too much longer with that big camera.”

It wouldn’t be unprecedented.

There was a reference in Jim Bouton’s seminal baseball book “Ball Four” in which an ailing pitcher noted he was concerned about his career because vultures were “circling my arm.”

After clearing my mind of baseball references, I continued the journey. And, less than a half-mile down the road another group of black vultures were breakfasting on recent roadkill. Again, they were reluctant to leave their feast.

This group appeared well fed. None of them attempted to fly away. Instead, they awkwardly hopped to the side of the road, ostensibly too full to fly.

Like the Crab Orchard vultures, these birds appeared to enjoy being photographed.

They hopped around, staring quizzically in my direction, until we both got bored.

It’s not clear whether seeing the vultures is an omen, but they do seem to be more numerous this year. Or, it could be me …

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088/On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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