My house in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, sat on a hill overlooking dense woods and a small stream. Deer in that part of the state roam suburbia in large herds and, because hunting is severely restricted, their only predators are cars. Every few months a deer would end up dead down by the stream. (Why there? A wildlife officer explained that injured deer tend to go downhill and towards water, and so that’s where they die.) I could tell because vultures would start to appear in the tall trees near my house – black vultures and even larger turkey vultures, which seem to get along quite well. Hard to miss because they are massive birds, and before long they would be perched in large numbers and for days would swoop down to feed on the deer carcass until nothing was left but bones and hair. Here are photos I captured of these impressive birds:

A group of vultures congregated on the ground around a carcass is called a “wake.” Which is a very good description: Vultures are silent, so they seem like respectful mourners … aside from the ones that are actively picking at the carcass. A group of vultures perched in trees is called a “committee” – also a fine description as they will stand together solemnly on a branch for long periods.

It’s hard to convey how large these birds are. Their wings span 5-6 feet, and when they land it looks like their legs are flexing under a substantial weight.