Saturday, August 13, 2005

For the Birds

I think birds are cool. I watch them all the time.

At my former office I overlooked a home, if you will, for turkey vultures. Basically, they would land on the ledges of the building opposite me and hang out. In time I became quite a turkey vulture aficionado.

The turkey vulture is a graceful bird, although with a face only a mother could love; a turkey vulture mother, that is. Audubon described the turkey vulture as one of the most acrobatic of fliers and, having observed the flights of many turkey vultures at close hand, I would agree. They are both graceful and acrobatic.

But, more than flight, vultures display a complex social behavior. There are teenage vultures. Yes, I know that's frightening. Teenage vultures exhibit all of the delightful behaviors of teenagers: pushing, shoving, insulting and distain for authority.

I watched teenage vultures every day pull pranks on each other: pushing a sleeping vulture off a ledge, pecking a pal when his back is turned, pulling tail feathers and pooping on friends resting on the ledge below.

After a particularly good prank, on the vulture prank scale, the prankster would hunch his wings as if laughing. I could just hear the Beavis and Butthead huh-huh-huh as the wing "shoulders" shrugged up and down.

Over time I learned that vultures go through a specific wing ritual when landing. They stretch their wings way out then fold them in using two folding maneuvers. As I watched them land hour after hour I found that I could mimic their landing routine. Also, I learned how to hop and hang my head vulture-like.

Could it be that the vultures were watching me, too? I conducted some experiments where I would stand on my desk next to the window and mimic vulture movements anticipating that they would do the same. At times I thought they were looking at me, but I failed to obtain consistent results.

Once I was standing on my desk, arms outstretched, head hung low and doing the vulture hop when my boss walked in. Apparently he stood in the doorway for some minutes before clearing his voice, audibly, and remarking "Uh, what cha doing, Bill?"

I turned around, arms still outstretched and thought: "Merde." I tend to think in French when I'm in vulture-mode. Don't ask me why.

"Uh, well, um, er, you see, ah, I'm estimating the size of the database we're building."

"Oh," the boss looked speculative.

"Yeah, I think it's going to be *this* big," and I held out my arms wide, "and I think response is going to be like this," and I hopped up and down a little.

"I tried this before with great results," I continued, and I hopped up and down for emphasis.

My boss looked reflective, then turned to me and said, "Make sure you write this up and send it to R&D. You could be on to something here."

I folded my arms into my armpits vulture-like and hopped expertly down from the desk. I heard the boss shuffling down the hall to cause trouble elsewhere.

Slowly I turned to look out the window. Several of the teens were on the ledge watching me. Suddenly one of them outstretched his wings and hopped up and down. The other vultures watched and started hunching their shoulders: laughing.

"Ha ha," I mouthed, but this seemed to set them to hunching faster. Very funny, I thought, very funny indeed.

I flapped my arms a bit and did my best vulture dance. Then the teen with outstretched wings turned sideways to me and held out a single wing feather.

I couldn't believe it. I was being flipped off by a vulture. It was too much. I lowered my arms, grabbed my bag, turned off the lights and shrugged off to the elevator.

Much later at home I heard a familiar refrain: Hey, what's for dinner?

"Chicken," I replied, "lots and lots of chicken."

Kroger's, it appears, doesn't sell vulture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Never heard of turkey vultures before. You wrote on Pille's blog that you're in Texas. Is this where you've seen the vultures? They sound very interesting to watch.