Surfing lazily on thermal air currents rising from the steamy earth, the graceful yet gruesome vulture is a sure sign that fall has arrived in the Sunshine State.
They are the original snowbirds – here before seasonal residents flocked to condos dug into South Florida’s shores.
And while the vultures typically arrive closer to Halloween than Christmas, one national wildlife researcher said the flight schedule of this year’s flock was a little delayed.
Read the full Palm Beach Post story on Florida’s vultures here.
“Some of our birds have just arrived in the last couple of weeks,” said Michael Avery, project leader for the National Wildlife Research Center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville. “We have some that we previously tagged in Key West that are still making their way down.”
Avery said it’s not clear yet what may have delayed the seasonal southern sojourn, but it’s possible record warm temperatures nationwide this autumn contributed to the rescheduling.
Temperature readings released this week by the National Centers for Environmental Information revealed that from September through November, temperatures nationwide were above average to record warm. Areas around the Great Lakes, where Avery said many of the birds he tracks spend their summers, experienced their hottest autumn in years.
Michigan’s average temperature was 51.6 degrees September through November, nearly 5 degrees above the 20th century average for that time period and the second warmest on records dating back 121 years. Minnesota’s average temperature of 49.5 degrees was 6.3 degrees higher than average.
Florida too is experiencing record warmth, with 2015 expected to go down as the hottest on record.
But maybe it’s not such a bad thing if the vultures’ visits are shortened, because once they get here, they can be quite a nuisance.
While a vital component in clearing carrion, black vultures also are predators, attacking and eating small animals, including newborn cattle, piglets and goats.
They also, for reasons unknown, have an affinity for rubbery materials and are known to pull windshield washer blades off cars, eat the rubber around windows, destroy outdoor furniture and pull the rubber splines from pool enclosures.
“They are a very important component of a healthy ecosystem, but vultures are one of those birds that do create a lot of hassles,” Avery said.
In a 2005 federal report on the management of damage by vultures in Florida, the scavenger bird topped the list of troublemaking fowl with 680 requests for assistance from wildlife services between 1993 and 2003. That’s more than six times higher than the second-ranked nuisance bird — the duck.
The report estimated that vultures caused $1.4 million in damage in the same period — everything from chewing up vehicles to leaving excessive fecal droppings.