Since I moved to southern Maryland, I’ve seen lots of black vultures.
I see them soaring gracefully overhead, and I see them feeding on the ground, often in groups of 3 or 4. Although I’m a long-time bird-watcher, I’d never seen vultures in the wild before and I like observing them.
Vultures get a bad reputation because they eat dead animals. In the movies, they’re shown circling ominously, waiting for a dying animal or badly-wounded person to succumb, although circling vultures can also be a sign pointing to the scene of an accident.
There’s not so much drama where my BF and I live. Mostly, the vultures feed on road-kill, such as squirrels and possums, of which there seems to be an abundant supply.
A profound truth learned
Watching the vultures brings to mind something which I learned years and years ago as a zoology student. In lab one day we watched as a rattle-snake was fed a small mouse, opening its mouth and jaw extremely wide to devour the mouse and work it down its digestive tract
As you may imagine, there was a chorus of Yuk! and Ugh, gross! and Ewww! as we observed the snake swallowing its prey.
My classmates and I weren’t a particualarly squeamish bunch. We were fine when we dissected long-dead sharks, salamanders, fetal pigs, and cats–all preserved with formaldehyde.
But the spectacle of a snake swallowing a live mouse disturbed, disgusted, and repulsed most of us. Our professor obviously anticipated our reaction, and he said something profound, something that put it all into context, something that has stuck with me to this very day. He said,
A snake’s got to make a living like everyone else.
Of course it does. All living creatures need to make a living. They need to find and eat food while avoiding becoming food for another living creature. Their food may be grass or animals-which-eat-grass or worms or bugs. It may be fruit or blood or algae, even the droppings of other animals.
And all living creatures need to do whatever it takes to keep the species going.
If lions and other predators did not catch and eat herbivores (such as giraffes, bison, antelopes, zebras, and others), the number of herbivores would increase beyond the capacity of the land to feed them. Many would die slowly of starvation.
And knowing this, I appreciate the graceful vultures, soaring on their enormous wings, eyes peeled for a dead squirrel by the side of the road. It’s nature’s way.
What do you think? I know that some of these words and especially the pictures evoke a visceral reaction. Yes, it’s nature’s way, but what about the young gazelle brought down by a lion? So brutal, so sad. I welcome your comments.