Vultures: Doing Their Part to Clean Up the Gulf

GRN intern Meli Gass reflects on what she appreciates about the Gulf:There are many easy answers to the question, “What do you like about the Gulf of Mexico?” Sandy beaches, haunting wetlands, obviously adorable dolphins and manatees. But digging a little deeper, one can find that the gulf has many hidden treasures plants and animals so awesome, not because they are as cute as manatees, but because they are just plain weird.Take vultures, for example. These are birds that projectile vomit into the faces of their enemies as a defense mechanism. They urinate on their own legs to keep themselves cool in the hot sun. Cute? No. But, awesome? Undeniably.Vultures have been considered awesome for a very long time. The Mayans depicted vultures as spiritual birds that carried messages between the humans and the gods. These days, we seem to consider vultures only as extras in The Lion King. But they serve a very important role in keeping our environment clean. They are the garbage-men of the natural world, able to pick the body of a small animal clean in less than a half hour. Some vultures will even devour the bones. While most species only eat dead animals, the vultures inhabiting the gulf, American Black vultures, have been recorded to kill live prey at times. Consider them the ninjas of the vulture world.Of all birds, vultures are the best suited to soaring. That’s why you might see them lazily circling in the sky for hours. With their incredible eyesight, there is no need to be flapping hurriedly from place to place. It is said that they can see a three-foot carcass from nearly four miles away. This soaring ability also comes in handy when it comes to courtship: vultures perform courtship flights of intense chasing and diving to help the birds choose their mates. Since vultures lack vocal organs, they have no beautiful birdsong to accompany this mating ritual, but occasionally do produce a lovely hissing or grunting noise.I think that these are some pretty ugly, strange, and amazing creatures. But, even if I haven’t sold you on vultures, the point is that the gulf is full of the interesting, the mysterious, and the just plain weird. And I think that makes it worth protecting.

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