The cardinals and robins that came to my mother’s garden passed through my boyish attention. Life moved too fast. Birds were merely colors that appeared outside the kitchen window in speeded up time. My imaginative destination was far away. When I looked up at the sky, only the stars seized me. If something moved in their midst, I wanted it to be a machine which might descend to me alone, a dreamy 10 year old. Its drivers would invite me aboard, and we would streak away from this abstract planet to worlds as palpable as the ones described in the books I read.
Boyish days are long gone and for a long time this green place has been most wonderful and real — when I step out of doors, I look up several times a minute for something surprising to cross my line of vision. Life moves more patiently. Birds of every species are now the bright creatures of life — ubiquitous, protean, replete with omens, harbingers of good humor, the most vivid natural source of wonder. All of them. Black Vultures too.
Last week in south western Chester County, near the old King Ranch, the sun high enough for heat to rise from the valleys, they flew over a line of trees and dipped above the fields, catching the thermals. They kept coming. I counted by clots trying to keep up with their numbers. They kept coming — more than I had ever seen in one roost, a sight from another earth, from a pre-sapien world. They kept coming, soaring now, the clots breaking apart, all of them headed west. I lost track at 74 or 5. They kept coming. I stopped counting and only watched them.
Both Black and Turkey vultures need open country to breed — dense woods, rocky ground, cliffs, abandoned buildings, farmland gone fallow. When you see them day after day above your house, understand that you live near enough undisturbed space for them to find shelter and safety. You live near preserved land, acres not yet coveted, places as yet gone unpossessed.
Several broke off from the mass and settled into trees at the edge of a pasture. Facing the sun, attending to its warmth, they spread their wings, their long, white primary feathers catching the light. They looked ancient, ecclesiastic, priests gone to seed, exactly right.