An unloved bird?

Last year saw the publication of Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon (ForeEdge). While this book focuses on turkey vultures, there is considerable discussion of the turkey vulture’s close relative, the California condor. Here’s a review.

Author Fallon admires turkey vultures and her writing is beautiful. Consider the book’s opening paragraph:

A turkey vulture is a perfect creature. It is neither prey nor predator. It exists outside the typical food chain, beyond the kill-or-be-killed law of nature, although without death it would starve. On six-foot wings it floats above our daily lives, waiting for the inevitable moment that will come to each of us, every living thing. Then the vulture transforms these transformations – these deaths – into life. It wastes nothing. It does not kill. It is not a murderer, and it is not often murdered. The turkey vulture waits. Waits and wanders on its great wing sails.

01 Book jacket

This fine book is organized around the vulture-related work of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, of which Fallon is a cofounder. In this work, Fallon has spent much up-close time with black and turkey vultures, experiences she shares throughout the book. Here is a photo from the book of the author and Lew, an injured turkey vulture with whom Fallon develops a special relationship:

02 Author & Lew

Woven into these hands-on experiences with vultures is an engaging look at vultures around the world: their natural history, relationships with humans, conservation efforts, and so on.

In one chapter, “Wings and Prayers”, the author describes a visit to Arizona to see California condors. This chapter provides a solid overview of the condor story. I particularly appreciated reading about Fallon’s experience at a “ranger talk” in Grand Canyon National Park concerning condors. A member of the audience objected to the ranger blaming lead from spent ammunition for condor deaths. The subsequent back and forth between the ranger and audience members is quite interesting.

Fallon concludes her condor chapter with this:

I gazed out at the impossibly large chasm behind the ranger, and hoped that a condor would come soaring up from its depths, manifesting from the canyon like a dream or a distant memory, like a mammoth or saber-toothed cat, back to walk among us once again.

Katie Fallon’s Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird is an informative and enjoyable read. It’s especially valuable for giving readers a sense of what it like to be in the presence of a vulture. This book is now a valued volume in my library.

To learn more about Fallon’s work, visit these websites: Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia and Katie Fallon.