Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving Feast

In the November issue of Missouri Conservationist, ombudsman Tim Smith answered a question about why you don't see a lot of dead deer in the field.  "During warmer seasons, deer carcasses will “melt” into the ground quickly and can easily go unnoticed."  With "a little help from my friends" this is literally true.

Having watch a large dead doe's carcass virtually disappear over 4 days this summer, I was surprised how fast this occurs.  This last week we staked out a large frozen turkey that had defrosted earlier in a power failure, set up the game camera and a few days later watched the recorded action.

The banquet
King of the Mountain
Although there wasn't a vulture in sight, within 3 minutes the first turkey vulture arrived.  It must have been watching me turn on the camera.  There were 10 vultures within 5 minutes, recruited by the sight of their friends landing.  They took turns standing on the firm carcass.

Good reason for a bald head

They took turns feasting for the next 31 minutes, then suddenly flew off, leaving the field of vision clear for less than a minute.  Then the red-tailed hawk arrived and scoped out the field. 

"Yeah, just try it Buster"
Over several minutes several vultures returned, staying back a respectful distance.  The hawk remained in sole possession of the carcass for the next 30 minutes, occasionally glaring at the vultures.  After the hawk left, the vultures attacked the carcass for 10 minutes until the hawk returned. 

The hawk stayed this time for 18 minutes (dessert?) before leaving it to the vultures.  They shared the carcass for another hour before it turned dark and they called it a day.

The next three days there were occasional visits by a few vultures for several minutes at a time and an inspection by a neighbor's dog, checking out the bones which were picked clean.  On the fifth day, a red-tailed hawk made a final inspection of the carcass, looking at it nostalgically.  When I returned, I had trouble finding the remaining bones.

Click here to see the complete set of 16 full sized pictures.

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