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Turkey vultures, the most widely distributed and abundant scavenging birds of prey on the planet, are found from central Canada to the southern tip of Argentina, and nearly everywhere in between. In the United States we sometimes call them buzzards; in parts of Mexico the name is aura cabecirroja, in Uruguay jote cabeza colorada, and in Ecuador gallinazo aura. A huge bird, the turkey vulture is a familiar sight from culture to culture, in both hemispheres. But despite being ubiquitous and recognizable, the turkey vulture has never had a book of literary nonfiction devoted to it – until Vulture.
Floating on six-foot wings, turkey vultures use their keen senses of smell and sight to locate carrion. Unlike their cousin the black vulture, turkey vultures do not kill weak or dying animals; instead, they cleanse, purify, and renew the environment by clearing it of decaying carcasses, thus slowing the spread of such dangerous pathogens as anthrax, rabies, and botulism. The beauty, grace, and important role of these birds in the ecosystem notwithstanding, turkey vultures are maligned and underappreciated; they have been accused of spreading disease and killing livestock, neither of which has ever been substantiated. Although turkey vultures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes harming them a federal offense, the birds still face persecution. They've been killed because of their looks, their odor, and their presence in proximity to humans. Even the federal government occasionally sanctions "roost dispersals," which involve the harassment and sometimes the murder of communally roosting vultures during the cold winter months.
Vulture follows a year in the life of a typical North American turkey vulture. By incorporating information from scientific papers and articles, as well as interviews with world-renowned raptor and vulture experts, author Katie Fallon examines all aspects of the bird's natural history: breeding, incubating eggs, raising chicks, migrating, and roosting. After reading Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird you will never look at a vulture in the same way again.
- Introduction: The Spokesbird
- Vulture Culture
- The Private Lives of Public Birds
- Wings and Prayers
- Hill of the Sacred Eagles
- On the Move
- Virginia Is for Vultures
- Battlefield Ghosts
- Welcome Back, Buzzards
- Epilogue: Spokesbirds for the Spokesbirds
- Afterword: What You Can Do
Katie Fallon is the cofounder of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a nonprofit research, education, and rehabilitation center for injured birds. A member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, she has glove-trained a wide variety of raptor species, including turkey vultures, hawks, owls, and falcons. She is the author, previously, of Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird. She lives in West Virginia.
"Entertaining, well-researched [...] [Fallon] displays great passion and enthusiasm yet writes knowingly and dispassionately on the science of her subject in an engaging, literary style."
– Library Journal (starred review)
"This book is about vultures in the human world, but nowhere in the story does the human aspect overly intrude. The great birds are front-and-center, consistently painted in a positive and empathetic light. It is to Fallon's credit that she is able to coax the reader into the same love affair with vultures that she herself enjoys, without romanticizing her subject to the point of putting off her audience."
– Sense of the Misplaced
"Fallon truly loves these skillful gliders, and she hopes that readers will see the light. Every time I've seen a vulture this year, this book has come to mind, so I guess I'm hooked."
– The Exponent Telegram
"Who would have suspected the astonishments of vultures? Katie Fallon has given us an ingenious, funny, delightful book."
– Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"Katie Fallon, who writes with elegance, humor, and restraint, tells the lost stories of the vulture tribe. This book will fill you with wonder."
– David Gessner, author of All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West
"Fallon shines a bright light on this clan of sadly unloved birds, which are not only vitally important ecologically, but are also among the most imperiled avian groups on the planet. Vulture is an overdue love letter to a bird that deserves far better than we've given it."
– Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind
"This is a book that begged to be written [...] Fallon allows that the study of flying turkey vultures is akin to meditation. Rarely hurried, coursing the heavens like a setter seeks quail, this most widespread of North American vultures invites both contemplation and envy [...] A book as inspired as the bird that is its focus."
– Pete Dunne, New Jersey Audubon's ambassador for birding and author of The Wind Masters: The Lives of North American Birds of Prey
"A heartfelt and authoritative account of the world's most numerous and misunderstood avian scavenger. Writing in a style reminiscent of Edward Abbey and John McPhee, Fallon successfully captures the natural history of the species and its ability to succeed in both natural and man-made landscapes. Destined to change the mind of anyone who reads it."
– Keith L. Bildstein, Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary