There is no way to be politically correct about this. Although impressive, the Turkey vulture is… really ugly. Whatever the Darwinian reason behind it, Nature can turn out some seriously ugly animals. The Turkey vulture, somewhat common in the south Okanagan, has a red skin turkey head. The rest of the bird is actually quite impressive, and would be quite elegant, were it not for the head. It has a gigantic wingspan — over 160 cm according to Wikipedia, the embodiment of human knowledge — and flies effortlessly. We have had the privilege of seeing a half a dozen of them make lazy circles over the vineyard a year or so ago, carried by thermals. As the thermal faded, they came down and got fairly close to us, just overhead. Then we saw their red skin heads, their reddish beady eyes and their short hooked whitish beak. That kind of ruined it. They look better at a good distance.
Turkey vultures eat carrion. That means something dead and, apologies to any reader with a tender stomach, something decomposing. Not to everyone’s taste… Obviously, they are part of nature’s clean-up crew, which makes them valuable to the environment.
Enter the dead bull snake (or should I say “exit”?) It is there, on the road. Probably run over by one of the guests that came back the previous evening. To be fair, at night, a grey snake on an asphalt road is not exactly visible. Maybe if they had evolved a day-glow colour, they would have fewer of these types of encounters on roadways. Anyway, the snake is dead; very dead. And there it lies in the sun, baking. The snake’s corpse has a clear tire impression on it. Its death, mercifully, was swift: round one second, flat the next.
I really should have gone down and scraped it off the road. But, other matters took precedence. So I left it there; for the whole day. Then, the next day, I forgot all about it. It was on the side, and during that particular weekday, there were no guests. I had other things to do after all. But, secretly, I was hoping some bird would come and get it. Other times, I have seen Red Tail Hawks swoop down, and fly away with road kill. Were this to happen, it would save me from an unpleasant task.
It was late spring, and dusk arrived around 8 pm. I spotted a vulture circling overhead. Ha! I thought, my clean-up is about to be done for me; perfect! The Turkey vulture was wary however. It flew around and around, finally landing on the utility pole nearby. A bird that size on a hydro pole is not easy to miss: the bird is bigger than the pole. From the top of the pole, it would look around, and then down, at the snake… Flying off the pole, it flew around some more, checking out the neighbourhood. I stood still, camera in hand. It landed on top of the pole again, peering cautiously all around. Then, emboldened by the absence of any obvious threat, it hopped to the road, next to the snake.
After checking the surroundings again, it tried to grab the snake with a swift movement. It was clear that the intent was a snatch-and-fly. Regrettably, the dead snake, now well-cooked, was glued to the asphalt. Really well glued. The vulture tried grabbing it again. It pulled and yanked on it — no luck. During that time, I was able to shoot a dozen photos. Trying once more, the vulture got part of it to come off the road. That was not enough. Just as I was about to put down the camera, grab a spade and go there to unglue the thing, its efforts paid off. The dead snake peeled off from the road surface. The vulture nearly fell over. But, now victorious, it opened its wings slowly and took off, as if moving in slow motion.
I was thrilled. The snake was gone.
The Turkey vulture may be ugly… but now, it has a place in my heart.