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Recyclers of Rot

December 8, 2009

I was in a dumpster the other night. Each time a car would go by I would duck to avoid being spotted. I’d like to think friends would understand but strangers might pass by and judge. So I persisted in playing dumpster prairie dog until my goal was achieved.

This whole situation had me thinking of vultures. If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure the same logic might apply to the reviled and repulsive roadkill warriors who eat what few others will. Carrion. Dead stuff. Give them credit, the fresher the better and while eagles are proactive in shortening the lifespan of a fish and panthers are quick to change the expiration date of deer, vultures are more patient and more likely to let time or tires lay out a dinner spread.

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) have an incredible sense of smell which is rare among birds. They also use excellent vision to spot a potential meal. While the notion of “the more rotten the better” has been dispelled, it’s the fresh carcass or the foul funk of a day old corpse that draws the Turkey Vulture in. Leave it for too long and leftovers will cause indigestion. Even vultures have their limits.

Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) rely entirely on their vision, circling on rising thermals like Turkey Vultures do to spot prey. But they also steal signs from Turkey Vultures, watching their cousins for clues to whereabouts of dead things and often gang up to steal a meal from the more timid red-headed scavengers.

Regardless of their non-lethal approach to feeding, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures get a bad rap and despite the global movement to “go green,” the recyclers of rot are seen as nothing more than a roadside possum-lovin’ scavenger with a penchant for puking when threatened – which brings me back to my dumpster.

I shouldn’t be ashamed. I’m moving in a few days and I need boxes. Someone suggested I just buy fresh boxes, but why pay for something I can get for free? And like the vultures, I’m recycling. There’s gold in them there dumpsters! It just happens my treasure was in the trash.

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