A vulture’s got to make a living (like everyone else)

Vulture spreadSince 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.

None of what an animal eats is bad or disgusting or repulsive. None of what it does to make a living is evil. In fact, it’s good.

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/20/2011, 9:59 am

    I think that generally the vultures don’t wait long enough for the dead animals to start to decompose. That’s what the circling is about. They’re waiting for the dying animal to die, although some vultures are known to hasten the death.

  • Donna J. Sheridan 05/20/2011, 2:16 am

    What an interesting post,very informative. Yeah I agree that vultures really eat rotten stuff.
    Donna J. Sheridan recently posted..Making Your Own Computer WallpaperMy Profile

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/16/2011, 1:41 pm

    Scavenging is just another life-style, another place in the food-chain. It’s not bad, although clearly–as you say–many people find it disgusting. Vultures do a fine job of disposing of freshly-killed squirrels and other small mammals by the side of the road. And with their size and wing-span, they’re magnificent flyers; I love to watch them soaring overhead.

  • Jane Levington 05/16/2011, 12:48 pm

    Yes it is true, vultures really eat rotten stuff! They are sometimes considered gross, but you can find some amazing things that they do. Most animals will get sick once they ate what the vultures are eating, but vultures do not. It is because these creatures are having natural chemicals from their stomach that are protecting them from the germs of decaying stuffs. Vultures do not kill animals for their foods (as what other carnivores do). This is the way of living of this amazing creature.
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  • Madeleine Kolb 05/27/2010, 8:25 pm

    Aileen, I really appreciate your comment and understand your reaction. This post came from my thinking about some profound truths I’d learned in my life.

    The experience of watching the snake and hearing what my professor said really did put the struggle for life into context for me. After that day, I never thought about living creatures the same way as I had before. It was a true epiphany.

  • Aileen 05/27/2010, 5:18 pm

    Yes, this article evokes a visceral reaction within me. I have mixed emotions I appreciate having my point of view stretched so that I may see from different views and at the same time it’s hard material for me to digest – that too I appreciate as I know the value of going beyond ones own comfort zone.

    Very thought provoking
    .-= Aileen´s last blog ..Quote for today…the law of flotation =-.

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/26/2010, 10:47 am

    Angela, It’s not easy for me either to watch animals hunting down other animals and eating them. If I watch a nature show, I don’t like to see a lion go after a terrified gazelle. However, It doesn’t affect me to see eagles or other birds catch fish.

    I really agree with you about hunting animals for sport, although I know some people who eat what they hunt. That’s OK, but I have a huge problem with a person mounting a deer’s head on the wall as a trophy.

    So much human activity is outside what we need to do to “make a living.”
    .-= Madeleine Kolb´s last blog ..A Vulture’s Got to Make a Living (Like Everyone Else) =-.

  • Angela Artemis 05/26/2010, 9:54 am

    Hi Madeleine,
    I agree with you. Nothing in nature is repulsive or violent in the sense that it’s done for survival reasons only. And, yes I hadn’t thought of it but agree with you again that it’s all part of nature’s balance to keep the herbivores herd numbers to sustainable numbers.

    The only thing is – I don’t want to see it. I can’t watch animals hunting down other animals and eating them. I get upset.

    But, to see human beings hunting for sport – enjoying killing things? That really upsets me. I especially don’t think that automatic assault weapons should be used in hunting either. Now that disgusts me!

    Thank you for this interesting post.
    .-= Angela Artemis´s last blog ..Intuition: You Don’t Have to Scare The **** Out of Yourself! =-.

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/25/2010, 1:35 pm

    Jean, That’s interesting. I’m not a vegetarian, but I stopped eating beef after reading about one-third of the way through the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

    The way cattle are raised now and forced to eat grain is inhumane, polluting to the environment, unsafe in terms of food safety, and downright unhealthy for those who consume the fat-laden steaks.
    .-= Madeleine Kolb´s last blog ..A Vulture’s Got to Make a Living (Like Everyone Else) =-.

  • Jean Sarauer 05/25/2010, 12:35 pm

    I grew up on a farm near the woods and so got used to the ‘animals as food and/or prey’ concept early on. While I could accept the reality of nature, it still made me feel bad. And that’s likely got something to do with why I’m a vegetarian now :)
    .-= Jean Sarauer´s last blog ..The True Story Behind Virgin Blogger Note’s New Look =-.