Growing & Molting

June 24, 2009

The chick within a day or two of hatching.  About a week earlier, on her daily walk along the ridge, Jani had been startled when a turkey vulture flew up from an outcropping of boulders.  We went back and found two eggs like the one in this picture, and checked on them everyday until, on the 24th, one of them brought forth this little fuzzy guy.  The other egg never hatched.

July 2, 2009

The chick at about a week or ten days.  The second egg had disappeared by this time.  The mother vulture was rarely in the cave or even in a nearby tree, at least that I could see.  The chick, by this time, was beginning to make the hissing sound that is the vulture’s danger call.

August 1, 2009

The chick at about five weeks.  It is now the size of a big chicken.  It’s white down has begun to give way to strong black flight feathers.  But with down still around its neck and legs, it looks like some Elizabethan nobleman in a black suit with collars and cuffs of ruffled lace.  Meet the Earl of Carrion.

Now the chick is big and strong enough that its hissing sounds like steam venting from some fissure in the rock.  Still no sign of the mother vulture, and interestingly, no stench of carrion in the cave.

The black vulture nests I used to visit would begin to stink in the hot summer weather from the “baby food” that the mother vulture brought back to the cave.  Vultures are “regurgitent feeders”; the mother brings up again partly digested carrion to feed to her young.  But the Earl of Carrion seemed to be growing entirely on his own, just standing there patiently like some dark flower as the petals of his flight feathers unfold.

August 3, 2009

Et in Arcadia Ego...

A month and a day since we first saw the chick, and already it is practicing the vulture gaze, that patient, fearless look that says, “Something coming is already here, around us and in us. Lovely. Nothing to fear. I will be here when you need me.”

But my dear little earl, what I want to know is this: How does a creature who has spent his whole life standing in a dank little cave, huddled in the darkness, hissing at the stones, ever learn to fly? I have seen the first flights of fledglings, leaning into the air from the edges of their nests, letting gravity teach them how to use their wings.  But how does this stone-born creature ever even get the idea to rise and spread its wings?  Where is the mother vulture when we need her?  I hope I can be there to see the earl off.