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A Gothic Bird StoryGail Parker Salem-News.com
The Black Vulture, Jote de Cabeza Negra, Coragyps atratus.
(PATAGONIA, Argentina) - “The important thing to remember about the Deepwater Horizon disaster is that it is environmental, not economic.” Joe Mysak , Bloomberg News.
Today, we have sad news of the first proof of oil migrating into the food chain. Harriet Perry of the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s Center for Fisheries Research and Development reports evidence of oil in post-larval blue crabs contaminated from oil drifting into the coastal marshes. Larger fish and all kinds of birds eat these larval crabs.
When they are consumed, the fat is digested and stored in the tissues of the consumer, where the toxic hydrocarbons begin to do their dirty work.
The BP oil spill has already killed many birds directly by hypothermia, interference with breeding behavior, organ damage, stress, ulceration of tissues, damage to adrenal tissue which regulates blood pressure and concentration of bodily fluids.
But now we have evidence of hydrocarbon bioaccumulation advancing up the food chain. This is called biomagnification. Higher concentrations wreak more havoc, especially to those animals closer to the top of the food chain.
Among over 59 species of birds threatened with endangerment or extinction, are the carrion eating birds at the very top of the food chain, like the Coragyps atratus; the black vulture.
On a recent trip to the small fishing village of Bahia Mansa, Chile, I witnessed a large group of black vultures flying over the surf and also waiting patiently at dockside for offal from the fishermen’s fresh catch.
Though they eat mostly carrion, the black vultures are also known to kill newborn mammals such as calves and fawns and to sometimes dive for fish. Forty or fifty years ago, various biologists gathered information proving that they capture small fish such as minnows.
In reality these birds are in the same family as storks and ibises, not hawks, as previously thought. This mistaken classification is the cause of the name buzzard, which is similar to the French word for raptor.
The jote de cabeza negra is very large (25.5 inches tall with a 5-foot wing span) and the plumage is entirely black except for white at the base of the primary feathers, which is visible in flight from below. The head and neck are featherless, and of a dark gray color, the beak is whitish. The eyes are brown, the legs grayish white. The tail is short and squared.
The sexes are colored the same, and the young are slightly lighter in color and have less of the wrinkling about the head and neck. This wrinkled skin enlarges during feeding to protect the feathers from filth.
This bird is seen in large groups flying in circles, riding the air currents and resting quite tranquilly near the source of its food supply. They lay their eggs on the ground among rocks, in hollowed out logs or in barns, depositing 2 white eggs with brownish-red spots. Its habitat includes the southeastern United States and all of South America.
Black vultures are clean birds and like to bathe, but because of their association with death, their habit of vomiting defensively and their undeserved reputation for uncleanliness, these birds have gained a Gothic reputation.
Gail Parker is a writer and photographer who lives in Argentina. She and her lifetime mate and husband Eddie Zawaski, who also writes for Salem-News.com, are former residents of Oregon, Gail has a great eye for memorable photos in this unique place called Patagonia. Her observations from this amazing wonderland of nature are a fun and welcome addition to our story flow.
Watch for Gail's wonderful coverage of the birds of Patagonia in future stories and photojournals here on Salem-News.com.
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