The warning signs at Flamingo Campground in Everglades National Park were clear: Food Must Be Properly Stored. The best place was in the trunk of your vehicle.
The folks from New Jersey apparently didn’t get the message, or more likely, chose to ignore it. Signs were posted everywhere. They left their picnic table packed with a weeks worth of food as they drove off.
I glanced over from our campsite five minutes later. The trees over the table had turned black. Fifty or so vultures were contemplating dinner. What happened next wasn’t pretty. If you have ever watched hyper five-year-olds tear into Christmas presents you get the picture. Food wrapping paper flew everywhere.
I walked over and shouted at the invading forces. They flew up into the trees. As I walked back to our site they returned to their feast. I tried again. This time they croaked angrily at being interrupted and walked away instead of flying. As I strolled after them another group landed on the table. An exploding bag of potato chips elicited a chorus of delight.
I gave up. You have to know when you are defeated. I once tried to rescue an ice chest from a bear at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. A family from Iowa had left it outside their camper. The bear stood up on his hind legs and growled at me. He was huge. I told the bear he was welcome to the ice chest and the Iowans.
I left the Black Vultures with a similar message. Later that night I heard the family from New Jersey arrive back at their camp. They let loose a torrent of obscenities that even a writer couldn’t imagine. Their camp looked like New Orleans after Katrina. The family was laughing the next morning, however. One of the joys of travel is having stories to tell when you get back home and they had a doozy.
Usually Black Vultures eat carrion. You can spot them throughout the Southeast wherever roadkill is found. But they are also quite willing to clean out a camper, gather at the local municipal dump or even eat an occasional calf. They are birds of opportunity.
Like buzzards, they have bald heads to make reaching into dead things easier. Imagine how messy feathers would become. They also have large ripping beaks and are noted for peeing on their legs to keep cool. Given all this you may find it surprising I think they are quite handsome. But check out their photos below.
Black Vultures are monogamous and share incubation responsibilities. They don’t build nests but are known to lay their two eggs in caves, on rocks or even in old buildings. Bits of broken glass, bright plastic, bottle caps and other baubles are used to decorate the area. They value privacy and may scout an area for days to assure its isolation. Young vultures often stay with their parents for years in a social group.
In addition to the Southeast, they are found throughout Central and South America. With global warming they are expanding into the north.