This past Easter week was an unusual experience for me. I was sitting on my deck overlooking Elephant Park in north Fargo, watching the cloud formations. The white fluffy clouds against the dark blue background of the sky were beautiful.
I then noticed a very large flock of turkey vultures riding the winds high above the clouds. Unlike eagles and ducks, the vultures really cruise at altitude and rarely flap their wings.
Each time I’ve noticed them, they’ve been in very large flocks. This prompted me to wonder where they live, as I’ve never seen one close up. I took to the bird book my wife has literally worn out and found the following:
- They nest on bare ground, in hollow stumps, caves, cliff ledges or old buildings.
- They feed by scavenging on carrion, fresh or decayed.
- They find food by sight and scent while soaring.
- They are mostly seen coming to and from nightly communal roosts, which may be located on tall buildings, towers or large trees.
- They use thermals and updrafts to glide. When these terminate, they land because they don’t like flapping their wings.
- When they sight live prey, they fold their wings tight and dive.
Given that they glide thousands of feet above the ground, you just have to imagine how good their eyes and sense of smell are to enable them to focus on their target. The book said nothing about their braking systems, but you have to wonder how a bird with a 26-inch wingspan can target its victim from thousands of feet overhead and brake at just the right time to strike its prey and not crash into the ground. It really makes you wonder.
Next I spotted two eagles flying around, much lower than the vultures and majestic with their white heads and wingspan. As you drive around Moorhead-Fargo, you’ll see them perching on trees, usually along the river. You can get within 100 yards or even less before they decide when to fly away. They don’t spook — they just take off, flap a few times and glide to their next perch.
In our area, we have bald eagles:
- They have a wing span of 30 inches but appear larger, as they fly lower.
- They build nests in tall trees, and they are massive. If you’ve ever seen one, it’s as if they’ve cut down an orchard and flown it to the top of a large tree, then lined it with whatever.
- They too use sight and smell to hunt. When they spot prey as they glide over their target, they tuck their wings and dive straight down.
As with the vultures, you have to marvel at the eagles’ ability to dive and brake as they hit their prey without slamming into the ground.
Now, we have a number of bird feeders in our backyard and all kinds of small birds visit us. Sparrows, American goldfinches, house finches, junkos and blackbirds spar for the food.
We have Cooper’s hawks in the neighborhood. You know when they’re around because, all of a sudden, the small birds start flying into the windows and the side of the house, and then just disappear. No birds anywhere!
Of course, our cats, which are inside looking out, go flying into the glass doors trying to catch the birds on the outside as they panic into the glass. The birds don’t knock themselves out — they just go “bang” and flee. The cats are another matter. They hit the glass, then just sit, switching their tails and lying flat as they try to figure out how they missed those birds.
Enter the dog, which up ’til now had been resting. It sees the cats attacking the window and jumps all over the cats, trying to get them to settle down. It’s a show worth filming … but I digress.
We have rabbits under our deck, our neighbor has rabbits under his patio, and a third has them in the bushes in his backyard. Those damned rabbits have learned that if the neighborhood dogs are inside the fence, it’s OK for them to run by on the outside from yard to yard. I’ve seen dogs (not mine) run headlong into the fence and bounce off it while going after the rabbits. I mean, they smack the fence, stagger up like a drunken sailor, and then do the same time after time.
My border collie (crossed with an elephant) has her own way of dealing with the rabbits. She sees them and just chases after them right up to the fence … where she stops. They, of course, don’t stop — they keep on running. I just noticed what her fun is. She tries to get the angle on them as they go by and races them to the end of the fence. I now know the rabbits would be well advised not to show themselves if Ellie is off-leash because she can, in fact, outrun them.
I spent a few hours (“spent,” not wasted — I’m retired) watching four rabbits across the street at the base of a very large pine tree. They were running, jumping over each other and acting like they were playing tag. I’ve been told they weren’t playing but were, in fact, breeding. If they were breeding, then it’s the first time I’ve seen sex on the fly. From what I saw, breeding must involve spitting at each, if you get my drift. I saw no touching, only a fly-by or jumping-over-and-round technique. End of story on rabbits.
Now, we’ve also had a lot of squirrel activity — animal, not human. It’s fun watching how they interact … play tag, fight, chase each other all over. When the dog and cats were inside looking out the glass door, those squirrels (and once in a while the rabbits) would take a short cut across the deck. The dog would just bark and let it go, but one of my cats would go bonkers. She’d go from window to window around the whole house, tracking the rabbits as they played. I’d be lying in bed, trying to go to sleep and hear the sound of that cat tearing across the floor, ricocheting off the wall, tearing across the carpet and slamming into the window where she’d assume the rabbits went.
I have observed her on more than one occasion and have to admit I laugh because I can’t figure out how she bangs into so many things in her quest and never gets hurt. Of course, when she is on the rabbit run, that wakes up the dog, which thinks there’s a burglar at the door. If the cat hasn’t awakened us up, the dog will.
Our second cat, a male, simply watches all the activity and doesn’t get involved in the foolishness.
I’m guessing people without animals haven’t read this far. But animal lovers have and may be wondering, what’s my point? Well, the point is you read this far, and that’s why I write. Have a great week. Amen.