Photo: Pueblo Chieftain
Vulture. Try to say it without sneering or turning up your nose. Such is the reputation of this maligned bird that is associated with death, decay and disease.
True, they feed on carrion and death; but far from being a bad thing, they provide a great service as the natural world's garbage disposal. They help keep pestilence and disease in check by disposing of waste and vermin.
At first glance, vultures' bald heads seem grotesque and ugly. But the lack of feathers serves a very important purpose -- to keep gore, guts and fecal matter from clinging to them after feasting on a carcass. Just under their baldness, they sport a lovely mantle of feathers that resembles an Elizabethan collar or a monk's hood.
Their threatening hunchback position rivals that of Quasimodo, but to see them stretch out their wings and soar is to see grace in motion.
Cinereous vultures are one of the largest predatory birds on the planet and can measure almost 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip. It is a marvel to witness their sheer size and bulk. Nesting couples construct giant nests that can be as big as a king-size bed.
The Pueblo Zoo is home to two cinereous vultures. Vader, at 17 years old, is the senior resident. For years he was housed with similarly ominously named, Lurch. Recently, Lurch left to make room for a 5-year-old female named Wednesday.
The two birds are still getting to know each other and have not fully bonded, but hopefully, they will be making a nest of their own someday soon.
So the next time you visit the zoo, don't just scurry by the cinereous vulture exhibit next to the zebras. Instead, take a close look at their majesty and finely tuned features.