Turkey and black vultures have been reported recently in Vineyard Haven. Rob and Wendy Culbert suggest that there is a winter roost of vultures somewhere in Vineyard Haven. I suggest it might be in the area between the Tisbury town hall and the Old Stone (Sovereign) Bank.

All bird species take naps, rest and sleep. Roosting is considered the activity of resting or sleeping and occurs in a variety of areas. The majority of birds usually roost near their nesting or feeding sites. There are summer roosts, usually next to their nests; migrating roosts, such as the flocks of tree swallows that alight on a stand of phragmites for the night on their way south; and winter roosts.

As one would expect, the act of roosting in the winter is a method for groups of birds to retain heat and stay warm. Both turkey and black vultures form large roosts during the colder months, but usually do so independently. My research resulted in findings that were fascinating. It seems that black vultures roost not only to stay warm, but also to keep their family together to teach the young the ways of the world. What better way to learn to find a carcass to snack on than to follow your parent. According to Marcia Evans, “Family members stick together and maintain contact all year. You might find several generations of related black vultures in a communal roost along with generations of aunts, uncles and cousins. Related black vultures cooperate with each other by forming coalitions. They peck and fight to drive turkey vultures away from a carcass along with any non-kin black vultures that try to join the family feast.” Black vultures do not have the acute sense of smell that turkey vultures possess. It is not surprising to find a few black vultures roosting with turkey vultures to take advantage of their cousins’ hunting ability. Black vultures are higher fliers than turkey vultures and use this ability to watch where their cousins settle down on a food source. The black vultures then swoop down and gang up on the turkey vultures and drive them off and chow down.

Vultures are not the most handsome birds in the sky, but they do provide an important function. They are the garbage collectors of the bird world. They will feed on road kill, skunks among other things, so pay them some respect.

Bird Sightings

A very late black-throated blue warbler arrived at Bob and Edo Potter’s Chappaquiddick home around 9:15 a.m. on Dec. 5. The warbler stayed in the company of black-capped chickadees for most of the day either enjoying the bird bath or the peanut butter feeder. Hatsie Potter also saw the warbler, but unfortunately it disappeared shortly thereafter.

Tom Engley counted 15 turkey vultures circling over the Old Stone Bank and Leslie’s Drug Store on Dec. 1. Wendy Culbert spotted the single black vulture Dec. 7 over the Tisbury town hall.

Both Tom Rivers and Jenny Abbot had ruby-crowned kinglets at their feeders — Tom and Barbara Rivers at their Chilmark home on Nov. 26 and Jenny in her Oak Bluffs home on Dec. 6.

Robbie Dietz called to say he found a small hawk trapped in his Chilmark cellar in the early morning of Dec. 5. He opened the door and luckily the hawk had flown the coop. We never were able to determine the identity, probably either a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk.

Lanny McDowell and I went to Squibnocket on Dec. 4 and found the resident harlequin and eider ducks, and a red-necked grebe, our first of the winter. We also spotted horned grebes, both common and red-throated loons and northern gannets.

Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens watched a huge female sharp-shinned hawk cruise through their Pilot Hill yard on Dec. 7. Scott and Tim Rich enjoyed viewing the harlequin ducks and horned grebes off Squibnocket.

Flip Harrington scared a great horned owl out of a tree in the Quenames woods on Nov. 30. Tim Rich counted two snow buntings in the Quenames field the same day. Flip saw a hermit thrush on Blue Barque Road on Dec. 6 and Flip Harrington and I had a fox sparrow and purple finch at our Quenames feeder on Dec. 8.


Please report your bird sightings to birds@mvgazette.com or by calling the bird hotline at 508-645-2913.

Susan Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.