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Buzzards are round-the-clock clean-up crew

By Les Harrison Special to the Star

Dining out is an activity which requires some forethought and planning, especially in these days of social distancing. Choosing the meal, any dining companions (if allowed) and the location of the meal are decisions which influence the experience.

Once decided whether alone or with a few friends or family members, the cares of the world temporally retreat into the background. This is even true for repugnant creatures such as the black headed buzzard.

Black buzzards roost high in family units to maintain a safe distance from potential predators.

It is true the public’s perception of buzzards or vultures is somewhere between loathsome and disgusting. It is likely no one has ever deemed it a compliment to be called an old buzzard, or a vulture of any age.

Black buzzards (or vultures) are classified as New World Vultures residing in and above Gulf County. There genetic cousins are other North and South American vultures, and California and Andean condors.

Fossils from the Pleistocene epoch in Florida indicate the buzzard had ancestors in-residence during that active period of glacial encroachment. No doubt they were cleaning up sabre-tooth tiger leftovers.

Curiously there is not a close genetic relationship with vultures occupying Europe and Asia. These Old World Vultures are thought to have developed separately, but with similar traits which are employed for the same purposes and effects.

Black buzzards are scavengers, but on rare occasions will attack small or helpless animals when their dining opportunities are limited. Most close encounters with these birds is roadside when they are enjoying the misfortunate of some unlucky deer, armadillo or other road-kill.

Unlike many inhabitants of the avian world, buzzards do not have the vocal organ to chirp, crow, or trill. They can emit only a primeval grunt or raucous hisses which compound their image problem as boorish savages.

Adding to their brutish image are their nesting skills. Buzzard eggs are laid in protected areas with little to no nest construction.

In contrast to their harsh appearance and practices they are true egalitarians as both buzzard males and females incubate the eggs. The young hatch in 30 to 40 days, and their flight training begins at 10 weeks of age.

Black buzzards use their excellent sight and acute sense of smell to locate meals. This redundant system for finding fine dining is the envy of Old World vultures which have to depend strictly on their sharp eyesight.

This buzzard’s superior sense of smell has been employed by natural gas companies for years. Natural gas is odorless and undetectable when pumped to the surface.

A blend of chemical are added to natural gas as part of an odorant warning blend/safety effort. Gas pipeline leak detection is easier in remote areas because buzzards will confuse the added stench for carrion and circle above the seepage.

As leisurely graceful as buzzards are in the air, their terra firma appearance is cartoonish. A featherless head, a tufted collar and a hopping gate make it an ideal candidate for mockery and distain.

Personal foibles and shortcomings aside, the buzzard population tirelessly serves the citizens of Gulf County as a seven-day-a-week clean-up crew. While no empirical study has been conducted, their no-cost removal of roadside dead animal likely saves taxpayers thousands of dollars in disposal cost annually.

Additionally, there is evidence their tidying labors minimizes the spread of some diseases which would occur in decaying flesh.

While not the ideal dining partners, they do have certain unique and beneficial qualities. Just ignore their choice of entrees and table manners.

To learn more about this useful bird in Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka and Gulf County, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com and follow me on Facebook.