Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Now, I feel a need to forewarn those of you who are frightened or otherwise creeped out by snakes. Big snakes. Really big snakes. I freely admit to being totally freaked out from start to finish in yesterday's melodrama. The only thing that made this experience an exceptional one was the role played by the turkey vultures in this episode of My Life in the Wilderness.

And lucky you, dear readers, I will also spare you from the blood and guts portion of the show--mainly because I can't bear to look at those particular photos again.  Don't ask me what I was thinking to take them in the first place; just be glad you don't have to see them.

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Yesterday afternoon.  I was at the laptop doing some research when this large shadow flashed across the windows next to where I was sitting.  I got up to look.  I don't initially see anything, not in the front yard or up and down the winding mountain road.  Then I spy a few turkey vultures, circling around my driveway in long easy loops.  At first I just admire their form, the way they can glide without ever flapping their incredibly large wings.  I watch for several minutes, then as I'm turning to go back to the laptop, one of the vultures drops onto the road.

Wow.  That's new.  They rarely land, unless there's...oh.  Something dead.

I grab my camera and try to quietly step out onto the front deck.  I swear I didn't make a sound, but the bird instantly surged into the air and as he takes flight I see...a shape in the road, just beyond my drive.  I get goosebumps because, oh holy hell, what is that?  I zoom in with the telephoto so I can determine it is NOT a rattlesnake, because from my deck it has the right coloring, marks and size. Thankfully, the tail was sticking up, thin and rattle-free. Still.  I am horrified to see a snake this big practically in my living room!!

(Later I look it up.  It's a Gopher snake, bears a remarkable resemblance to a diamondback rattler, adults are 3 to 7 feet long.  Holy. Crap.)

I see right away the snake is either near death or already there from that large wound in it's side.  I don't care.  I don't want to know that this creature was slithering anywhere near me.

Then the clean-up crew come back, looping and diving, silent as the grave.  Truly, other than the faint swish of air through their wings if they fly close enough, they're soundless. No one lands though, or comes closer than about five feet above the snake, before they all just...glide away.

No.  Wait.  Come back!  I don't want to see this thing every time I look out the window!

Hours go by.  I've glanced outside a dozen times, notice a couple of those times that the snake is shorter than before and has been moved, so once or twice something has come by for a snack, but I can't figure out why the vultures aren't just cleaning things up quickly.  Is the snake too fresh?  Are they waiting for it to cook on the hot pavement?  Don't they like to eat slithery things?

Then.  Towards late afternoon, this guy shows up...

And man, I wish I knew someone who was versed in turkey vulture behavior because it was just the most interesting thing to watch.  He walked around the...er...corpse several times.  Complete circles.  He stood motionless for long periods, then he would do this:

Over and over.  He would pace, then posture, stand perfectly still, then start the whole dance again. At first I wondered if he was trying to tell his brethren to stay away, that this was his dinner, but there wasn't anyone else around.  Then I thought he was making sure the snake was well and truly dead and the aggression was to provoke a response. Whatever, it went on for nearly half an hour before he decided it was time for lunch. 

I have spared you that visual peeps, it was the stuff of nightmare.

At one point, the vulture tried to take the snake airborne, but dropped it behind my hedge.  I took this shot through the window, standing on a chair as a trio suddenly descended out of the sky, ready to share lunch with the first guy.

Evidently, he didn't want to share.  Flurry of wings, some scuffling and these two ended up in a tree next to the hedge...

About ten minutes later, everyone had left the scene except this one. And honestly, could there be a bird more scary-looking?  When I think of hell spawn creatures, a turkey vulture ranks right up at the top for having a face only a mother could love... 

I couldn't see what happened to the snake--and I wasn't about to go look--though this morning when I drove down the driveway to the park, I saw a tiny scrap of...something, stuck to the pavement.

So, nature's cleaners did their job.  And even though the drama was a bit much at times, they took care of things so I didn't have to deal with a dead snake in front of my house. Living on a mountain is usually fine with me, but I really just have to draw the line at snake disposal...


  1. Wow sounds like the turkey vultures had a nice dinner. Though I feel bad for the snake. I admit that I have always kind of liked snakes. Used to scare my sister with them lol.

  2. Honestly, I was glad the snake was well and truly a goner before the vultures came calling...it was sooooo gross! ;D

  3. The zoology geek in me would've been fascinated to actually watch. And, of course, kind of like Lovecraft sparing details for fear of sanity I'm thinking; oh, go there...

    1. Like a train wreck, I couldn't look away, though in retrospect--considering what I saw--it might have been better if I had. I'll never get those images out of my brain now.

  4. Oh boy, that poor snake. I don't even want to imagine what it was going through since it took so long for the vultures to finish their dinner. But still - it is fascinating how nature takes care of everything, right? Thank you for sharing this with us, I had no idea in what way vultures go about their business!

  5. If it's any consolation, the vultures only eat dead things, so the snake was spared knowing it was dinner. I don't know how it got injured/died in the first place, though I suspect a hawk, the true killing machines.