Several years ago, we were astonished one spring morning to see 30 to 40 turkey vultures roosting in the top branches of our next door neighbor’s very large and very tall spruce tree. We had a perfect viewing spot from the table in our breakfast room. They stayed for three days and nights, and then in one huge fell-swoop they flew away — I assume to go further north. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before that, and we watched them avidly while they were here. There were so many, and they were so big. And their flight was so beautiful as they soared overhead — with their wings spread wide and feathers shining silvery in the sun — on their forays out and about, looking for food.
I’m not much of a bird watcher. I enjoy the several species we see regularly in our back yard, and we are always especially pleased to get a jaunty little house wren in our birdhouse every year. But I don’t seek out birds to watch. These turkey vultures, however, offered a whole new level of bird-drama to our daily lives.
Every spring and fall since then, the turkey vultures have come back. They have never actually roosted next door again, but they stay somewhere nearby and we see them in the mornings and evenings soaring up in the sky over us. And they stay longer now. This year, they came at least a week ago and are still here. We watched them as we sat eating our supper tonight — soaring and soaring in the sky, sometimes way high up, other times down much closer and directly over our house.
I know that in many ways these are not particularly attractive birds, to say the least. Their very small red heads are featherless, their eating habits are undeniably disgusting, and their movement on the ground is awkward and ungainly. But we never actually observe any of these aspects of the birds — we just see them soaring beautifully in the air on the rising thermals.
Some interesting facts about turkey vultures can be found online: their wingspreads can be up to 6 feet across; they have an especially large olfactory lobe in their (tiny!) brains, the better to smell the decaying animal meat they are seeking for food; they have no “syrinx”, which is the vocal organ of other birds, and can only vocalize with grunts and hisses; chicks usually come in twos and they fledge at about 9-10 weeks.
So what’s the point of all this? Frankly, I’m not exactly sure, but . . .
There is something about the annual migratory rhythms of these vultures that speaks to me of belongingness in the world community. When the vultures return to my very own neighborhood year after year, and it seems reasonable to think that they are the same ones coming every time, it gives me a sense of “all’s right with the world.” That I am part of a world that has an amazing natural order to it and that the rhythms of my own life are part of that. I feel like we have somehow helped to offer the turkey vultures something in the way of habitat and environment that feels right to them as they make their annual journey north, and they are offering us, in return, the morning and evening spectacle of their soaring flight above the trees.
Perhaps the re-appearance of the vultures twice a year is, for us, an experience of the everyday patterns of life on a macro-level. We, each of us, have micro-rhythms in our daily lives — from the moment we get up in the morning to when we go back to bed at night. And what we do in between constitutes our daily routines and our reason for being. But we also, each of us, live larger rhythms of life, and these macro-rhythms, too, can offer us a sense of variety, balance, peace, and belonging that is health promoting and reassuring.