One of the most wonderful things I enjoy about writing this column is all the help I get from friends who enjoy the wild things around us as much as I do. The great American writer and illustrator Maurice Sandak used the title, "Where The Wild Things Are" for his delightful 1963 children's book. This is exactly how I feel when friends Steve and Susie Allely call, text or email with news of what the wild things are up to in the Sisters Country.
In an email from the couple on Feb. 27, they wrote: "I spoke with you at Bi-Mart some time back about the Turkey Vultures (TVs) and their return every year. Believe it or not, I spotted a big mature TV in the roost trees today. In all the years we've lived here this is the earliest I've ever seen one. I confirmed it by walking around the tree with binoculars to make sure it wasn't a hawk. Its not, it's a big mature vulture."
Turns out, the couple have been quietly watching the Sisters TV night roost for almost 30 years. Early on, TVs were spending the nights in trees behind the fire hall, sometimes to the chagrin of home and motor vehicle owners who didn't appreciate TV offal on their roofs.
This is the earliest the Allelys have ever noticed the TVs arriving in Sisters. Steve Allely spotted a single adult on Feb. 27, and within a week seven more were soaring about. The usual dates for the TVs to appear in Sisters is around March 8 to 12, which could be an indicator that things may be warming up in western America.
It's rumored some of the home and motor vehicle owners in the TV night roost area set off bottle rockets and other non-lethal scare devices that sent some of the TVs scurrying away. This action created another night roost near the Peterson Ridge trailhead that's in use today.
The Allelys have seen a definite TV pecking order for which bird will get to use the best limb on the Ponderosa pine on a given night. Much to the surprise of many people who claim TVs can only make a hissing sound, they can be heard making low croaking sounds when push comes to shove establishing night roost perch preferences.
Watching TVs come in to roost, they change from expert soaring birds to bumbling feathered nincompoops, crashing into one another and causing complete confusion as they (finally) settle in for the night. These antics are especially noticeable when a storm is approaching and they try to get under the porch for the night to stay dry.
From these observations of TV behavior, it seems that TVs may have the ability to sense atmospheric pressure changes. Knowing when a storm is approaching, especially a summer thunder-bumper, they come in early to take shelter in their night roosts to get out of the oncoming dangerous weather.
Swallows fly back and forth under the TVs night roosts snatching falling feathers out of the air as the vultures are doing their morning grooming. The swallows use these feathers for their nests.
From research done back in the '60s, it was found that TVs around Central Oregon spend the winter in the Salton Sea area of Southern California. I banded TVs for several years, trying to find out more about their seasonal movements, longevity and range. However, the banding lab put a hold on all leg-banding because TVs poop and urinate down their legs as an aid in body temperature adjustments. However, there's a marking method used in Canada and the U.S. that entails placing a small colored and numbered tag on the leading edge of the wing, called a patagial marker. If anyone sees one of these markers, please let me know at email@example.com or 541-480-3728. Many thanks!