A Really Big Thanksgiving Bird

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Black Vulture

Our Thanksgiving visitor.

Not long before Thanksgiving 2002 a huge black bird with a vigorous human-like stride moved into our neighborhood. Since it was always walking, never flying, we assumed it was hurt or ill. A call to the local animal control officer verified our guess: a black vulture, probably injured. The officer advised that he could provide no help for the animal; either it would eventually recuperate, or it wouldn't. The fact that it seemed so perky, even after many days, seemed to bode well for it.

Every day we saw it in a different spot. Some nights it slept leaning against our front door, so that when we opened the door in the morning we had to nudge the bird gently to waken it. It seemed not particularly frightened of us, or of anything.

The neighborhood cats and dogs hardly knew what to think of it, even apparently tolerating its foraging from their outdoor food bowls. Some would follow it around, but at a respectable distance. Even normally aggressive dogs were quite wary of this big bird!

T. J. and the Vulture

T. J. the cat meets the vulture.

A humorous moment occurred when my husband Henry approached the bird for a photograph in our neighbor's yard. Just as he snapped the picture he realized that in the nearby shadows the neighbor's red Persian cat T. J. (named for Thomas Jefferson, another red-haired Virginian) had been rapidly stalking the bird (see photograph). Within a fraction of a second after the picture was taken, T. J. started to leap onto the bird, paused almost in mid-air, and ran hard in the opposite direction. Too much Thanksgiving “turkey” for T. J. to handle!

As the weeks went by, the bird ranged farther and farther from our house. Eventually we were seeing it several blocks away. By Christmas, we did not spot it again. Hopefully the bird was able to rejoin its friends and relatives for the holidays!