Turkey vultures play an important role in disease prevention

The number of brown hairs has to do with the age of the woolly bear caterpillar. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
By : 
For the Birds

T.S. Roberts, a physician known for his work in ornithology, reported that the turkey vulture, formerly more common, was still seen in fair numbers throughout the state of Minnesota in 1932. He cited several accounts from the late 1800s that indicated the species was abundant throughout many parts of the state.

He described them as abundant in east-central Minnesota in 1870; very common in the Red River valley in 1885; and seen every hour in the day in Otter Tail County in 1893.

A stronghold was southeastern Minnesota — along the Mississippi River and along the St. Croix River.

The word vulture likely comes from the Latin vellere, which means to pluck or tear. Its scientific name, Cathartes aura, means either “golden purifier” or “purifying (cleansing) breeze."

In the old cowboy movies, vultures were called buzzards, a colloquial term for vultures, which applies to several hawk species in Europe.

Turkey vultures enjoy road-killed food between fresh and bloat.

Vultures can eat just about anything without suffering harm. The main reason they can do that is they have the lowest gastric pH in the animal kingdom. Stomach acid protects animals because it digests bacteria and other living organisms.

A turkey vulture’s stomach acid has a pH slightly above zero. This is lower than that of a car battery. It could dissolve metal, as well as digest nearly all organisms, including those causing anthrax, botulism, cholera, hepatitis, polio and rabies.

Their appetites help prevent the spread of disease to humans and other animals.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

There is something wrong with this chili.

That’s not chili.

It’s oatmeal.

Oh, well, then there’s nothing wrong with it.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: I was having one of those bittersweet days. I was sad and happy at the same time. A friend had died much too young. And I was thankful for my wife, Gail, who has been my secret weapon in my battle against cancer. She has made the difference. My love for my bride warmed me, but the day was cold enough that soup sounded like the perfect food. Minnesotans practice the three E’s of cold weather survival. Escape, Enjoy or Endure by eating soup.   

“What is the soup-of-the-day?” I asked the server.

“Order it and then you tell me,” she said with a smile.

It was vegetable beef. I think.

Leaving the cafe, I began searching for my car keys in my pockets. Finding them, I fumbled them. I heard a thud as they hit the ground in the dark parking lot. I could have employed my trustworthy tiny flashlight to find them, but it was attached to the keychain. I should have been paying more attention.

A Harvard study found that we spend 46.9 percent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. 

Halloween can be good and frightening

According to CandyStore.com, the best Halloween candies are, in descending order: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (the landslide winner), Snickers, Twix, Kit Kat, M&Ms, Nerds, Butterfinger, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles and Hershey Bar.

The worst Halloween candies listed from the 10th worst to the worst are: Mary Janes, Good & Plenty, Licorice, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Peanut Butter Kisses, Necco Wafers, Wax Coke Bottles, Candy Corn and Circus Peanuts.

My brother, Donald, enjoyed Circus Peanuts. That sort of thing can happen in the best of families.

In local news

Massive air spill at balloon factory.

When asked why he builds his own furniture, man replied he had no IKEA.

The Eat Around It Cafe received complaints about misplaced apostrophes in its alphabet soup.

Shopper puts a pumpkin down while finding her car key. The pumpkin was stolen. Law enforcement officials remind shoppers to never let their gourd down.

A travelogue

I travel here and there for speaking gigs. While in England, I discovered that the British say “Sorry” four times more often than Americans. Americans say “Thank you” four times more than the British.

Nature notes

There were two deer in the yard. They were drinking from a large bird waterer. They drink it dry regularly. Not a drop of moisture remains. It was as dark as 5 a.m. gets as our house cat Purl stared out the window at the deer. Her tail became bigger and bigger. The appearance of deer is subject to interpretation.

I enjoyed my daily treat of a Honeycrisp, which isn’t the most popular apple in the U.S., trailing Gala and Fuji in sales, but more Honeycrisp trees have been planted in recent years than any other variety, according to researcher Rich Marini, a professor of horticulture at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

Between bites of that delicious apple, I watched an eastern screech owl that had been rousted from its roosting site by upset songbirds. Screech owls, approximately 8 or 9 inches long, have a varied diet that includes small rodents, insects, worms, bats, frogs, tadpoles, lizards, fish and birds.

I’d driven by a sign that read, "Wildlife Refuge." There was a dead deer lying near it. The deer had almost made it. Speaking of refuges, many rats take refuge in Chicago. According to Orkin, Chicago is the U.S. city with the most rats. It’s followed by New York and Los Angeles. Minneapolis-St. Paul is 12th on the rattiest list of cities.

A doctor from England told me he was stunned when he saw a cardinal here. I told him I feel the same way.

The multi-colored lady beetles arrived in the yard and buildings at the time of the soybean harvest. They aren’t as bad this year as they have been other years. I take solace in that.

It’s time to make sure there is an ice scraper in the car. My wife and I worked in Haines, Alaska, one winter when it received 32 feet of snow. That’s feet, not inches. That was too much snow. I said so, but the weather didn’t care enough about what I thought to listen.


The crows cawed in the morning. I am pro crow. I figure if crows do well, so will my family.

Rich Greene of New Ulm told me that he was seated at a table outside a cafe, enjoying a scone. A robin landed on his shoulder. What else could a man do but share his scone with a guest?

I spoke in Duluth and spent the night at the home of Cindy and Chris Edwardson. Those wonderful hosts needed to take their bird feeders in each night because of a marauding black bear.

David Livengood of Silver Spring, Md., told me there was a female cowbird that landed on the outside mirror of David’s car each day. The bird looked at itself in the mirror and then pooped on it.

A cardinal goes through a full molt in the fall. The male’s new feathers come with brown tips that wear away over winter, leaving them bright red in the spring. A cardinal gets its red plumage from pigments called carotenoids obtained from sunflower and safflower seeds, apples, dogwood berries, grapes, raspberries, rose hips and others. Carotenoids produce red, orange or yellow feathers.


“How many broods will a mourning dove have in this country?”

One to six clutches per year depending on location and weather.

“How long does a bumble bee live?”

The lifespan of a worker bee is two to six weeks (28 days on average). They die with the first hard frost. Bumble bees rely on the queen to live through the winter and renew the population in the spring. A queen mates in the fall and then finds an underground hibernaculum to spend the winter. On average, a bumble bee queen lives about a year.

Meeting adjourned

“Praise does wonders for our sense of hearing.” — Arnold H. Glasow.

Thanks for stopping by

“No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don't ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot 


© Al Batt 2018