I woke up early this morning to the sound of muffled clomping on my roof. Fortunately, my experience with feral peacocks in Pasadena prepared me to recognize this as the sound of large birds hopping around up there. But I was pretty sure there were no feral peacocks in Ann Arbor. I stumbled outside to investigate, and looking up over the gutters found something the opposite of a peacock – bare red head, drab feathers, hunched shoulders – gazing back down at me.
A turkey buzzard. In fact, a whole wake of turkey buzzards, wake being the collective noun for them. Not exactly the avatars of pride, though if pride goeth before a fall someone or something has to be there to clean up the fallen.
The turkey buzzards usually hang out in a tall pine tree in front of my neighbor’s house, on the corner overlooking the main road. It’s a straight road with a lot of shallow ups and downs and a forty-five mile per hour speed limit, which generates a lot of roadkill. The civic-minded buzzards collect no taxes, yet every day they do the work of sanitation for their fellow residents. What were they doing on my roof, so far from the usual action?
Then I realized they were not peering down at me. They were peering down at my barbecue grill. I suppose the clinging scent of last night’s hamburgers had them looking for a nice juicy carcass. I made sure to move a lot while watching them, so they’d know I was alive. This was sufficiently convincing that, one by two, they gave up and went back to the neighbor’s tree. I counted fifteen of them. Their wingspans were wider than I am tall. As they settled into the tree, branches drooping with their weight, their silhouettes really bulked it up – it was twice the tree with buzzards in it that it appeared to be without them. It was amazing to think that this many birds of such size could be supported on the poor driving habits of one neighborhood.