Turkey Vultures Bind Us: Ira Sayles, ornithologist

Scrambling up the last boulders I reached the summit of the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary; binoculars to eyes I watched the acrobatic loops of Turkey Vultures.  The kettle of twelve rode the updrafts of the Kittatinny Ridge, swooping closely past our position on the western outcrop.  Bald heads turned right and left as they rode the current back down the ridge, just above the forest canopy.  Were they looking for carrion or smelling the air for it?

This question was raised by my great² grandfather, Ira Sayles, in an article published in The Auk, Volume IV, No. 1, PP. 51-56 in 1887.  During that era, relative amateurs were emboldened to enter scientific discourse, armed with an inquisitive mind and observations.  My great great grandfather had taken the time to record his observations of turkey vultures and develop a theory that ran counter to prevailing scientific thought — the carrion feeders found their meals by using a highly developed sense of smell.

I sat on a sandstone boulder yesterday til my body demanded a seat cushion.  Even then I watched, fascinated that I shared a hobby with my great great grandfather and confident that my Ira Sayles had been right.


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