Thunderbirds — The Purifying Breeze

I have instructed my husband that when I die I would like a sky burial. I suppose there are rules forbidding that kind of thing for people though even the lowliest squirrel is rarely denied that privilege.

A Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus. The nostrils are smaller and the tail feathers are shorter than the Turkey Vulture’s.

Circled around this vulture was the local grackle gang. Most were perched in the trees looking down with I assume some jealousy. A few did hop down to the ground making wary approaches but none dared to truly interfere.

Gourmet breakfast of pecan and sunflower fattened squirrel

The English word vulture comes from vulturus, which means ‘tearer.’ The grackles and I watched this vulture for a long time as it slowly and methodically tore off bits of meat with its sharp beak.

Then another vulture arrived. The red face told me it was a Turkey Vulture. The Latin name Cathartes aura is variously translated as purifying breeze or golden purifier. What a perfect description.

Like humans that eat meat, vultures prefer food that is freshly dead. I read that there is less incidence of disease and sickness where vultures are present in an environment.

But vultures won’t eat meat that has turned. I know this from experience, unfortunately. If a body gets too smelly I have to dial 311 for the City to come and collect.

adult turkey vulture2

I see vultures riding thermals here all the time. Our neighbourhood sits between the I-35 highway corridor and Airport Boulevard. Prime vulture territory not only because of the road kill potential but because these two busy roads are very wide creating lots of open space for vultures to spot carrion. Vultures have super keen eyesight. Turkey Vultures can also smell death from literally more than a mile away.

Vultures are huge birds. When I see one hanging from the sky I sometimes pretend it is a Thunderbird.

I was excited to see this posture. I was hoping to catch a shot of the famous horaltic pose where a vulture fully spreads its wings out — a distance of about six feet. Scientists have speculated that vultures do this for thermoregulation or to kill bacteria. Bah. I believe they do it because it probably feels nice to feel the wind push through your feathers.

But no luck. All it meant was that I startled it and it flew away.

red head turkey vulture
Vultures can live up to 16 years in the wild. You can kind of date the age of a vulture by how many warts have formed under its eyes..

34 thoughts on “Thunderbirds — The Purifying Breeze

      1. Debra, Judy and I are thinking about a short trip to somewhere warmer but not too distant during the two week period starting easter weekend. We were considering going back to Austin to see the bluebonnets. Would the timing be about right? And with the drought, would there be much to see? Your thoughts appreciated.


        1. As far as I can tell (being kind of new here) the drought hasn’t hurt the native plants all that much. It has been much harder on lawns and imported ornamentals. As for the the other questions … eeep. I wish I knew. Wildflowers don’t always respect the calendar. Some are already blooming for TexasDeb but normally you would see a lot in April. Her bluebonnets might be an outlier. As for heat seeking … that is a gamble. I tell my family the April and October are the best months to visit because it is pleasantly warm without getting insanely hot. Usually. If you decide to visit with flowers in mind I would recommend looking at old records of what is normally in bloom at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center.


  1. I adore vultures. I see them in my ‘hood too–usually standing and munching on a newly deceased squirrel–death by car. That wing span is impressive, they are beautiful, just beautiful in flight. Your photos captured them well.


    1. Thanks, Tina. Around here (on the property) it is usually an opossum feast. I am not sure why but this seems to be the place where old opossums come to die. It happens at least once a year hence my knowledge of 311 dead animal pick-up and the importance of fresh smelling meat for vultures. I joke that under the grass is probably an ancient possum graveyard. When I saw that Black Vulture yesterday morning I assumed it was the annual possum sacrifice. (Still a little sad about the squirrel … but so it goes …)


  2. Great shots Debra….the turkey vultures that come here in spring fly with the thermals and stay too far away to get any good shots.


  3. One of my all time favorite cartoons is the one showing two buzzards on a bluff looking down over a valley as one says to the other (paraphrasing) “Patience my ass, I’m gonna kill something!”.

    It is a good thing no vultures are riding thermals over my computer. As still as I can be, they’d be forgiven for swooping down and giving me an exploratory peck, just to see… I love the idea of vultures more than their proximity – their flight patterns are such a graceful dance between (their) life and (their carrion’s) death. When I was little, my father told me vultures looked ugly to us on purpose so we wouldn’t be staring at them, intruding on that powerful moment when life stole away more life from death. I didn’t understand then, but I do now. More, at least.

    PS – Eye warts!! Totally amazing. I can’t wait to work that into a conversation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that story from your dad. That is really powerful. About those eye warts — when I read about them I couldn’t resist passing that tidbit along. I wonder if they consider them beauty marks.


        1. They are clever like jackdaws. =) Looks like I will need to make a grackle post sometime. I think they are beautiful and elegant birds — a bit cranky looking though.


    1. (((hugs))) I know right. hahahaha As bad as it gets sometimes at least I’m not bald, I don’t have bits of squirrel caught on bristles, and last time I checked my eyes were wart free.


  4. We get both vultures here too, but not until the weather breaks. You got nice photos of them with good feather definition, especially the Black Vulture, a more difficult color to photograph.


    1. Thanks for saying so. I really did struggle with getting a good photo even though I was relatively close. My camera just couldn’t find a spot to focus.


  5. I have a real fondness for my “turkey buzzers”. I truly feel despondent in the fall when I realize that they are no longer about. I didn’t know that the Thunderbird pose had such a fancy schmancy name. A flock roosts in the trees in our backyard for their overnight siestas. In the morning, I often see them a la Thunderbird – I assumed, warming themselves in the weak sunlight.


    1. It is a small world … maybe this was one of your turkey buzzers! Texas is one of the souths where birds like to go in the winter. I will be sure to let it know you are thinking about them ;)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for saying so. The Black Vulture was much braver than the Turkey Vulture. 50 feet seemed to be the limit and I regret frightening it. Thank you so much for the link!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We get lots of turkey vultures migrating up and down the Rio Grand valley, I see a lot of them flying by and circling high above us, but I never see them on the ground or in the trees in our area.


Comments and side conversations are welcome.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s