As pets, vultures and buzzards would probably not be the first choice of most East Texans. They're not cuddly, and would probably not respond when called by name or "go fetch" a thrown ball or stick.
And, given the diet of their feathered fellows, rolling over and playing dead would not be the safest thing to do.
It is fairly clear why the good people of Gilmer have become a bit concerned about 500 turkey vultures hanging around town. Let’s be honest, they’re creepy — the vultures that is — and they bring an unclean feel wherever they go.
That’s because the birds feed on other animals that have died. While vultures can, in rare instances, be predators, they are usually scavengers. If you see circling vultures and buzzards in the sky you can bet they are scoping something below that is either dead or dying.
In old western movies, directors would use a shot of circling vultures to indicate the people below were dying of thirst and in imminent danger.
It’s true that buzzards don’t discriminate against anything dead, though the meal almost always consists of roadkill of another sort — from unfortunate squirrels to deer.
In this, the birds do the Earth a great favor, both cosmetic and real. It just looks better when dead animals are removed. It smells better, too. Festering dead animals, wherever they might be, also present health concerns.
If the vultures did not exist we would have to invent something else to do their job.
Which is one reason we hope that Gilmer residents can find a way not to kill the vultures as has been suggested might be necessary to clear them from the city.
Part of the stated need to remove the birds is that they have caused damage to at least one vehicle. We have no reason to doubt that but vultures usually don’t cause such damage. It is much easier to believe that Gilmer residents complained and suggested the city “do something” to get rid of the birds.
One of the tactics the city is already using is to frighten away the birds using pyrotechnics and noise makers. We hope those are enough to get most of the birds to move.
If not, Gilmer is prepared to take more drastic steps including killing the birds. We hope that doesn’t come to pass.
First, the vultures are federally protected migratory birds, which means the species is under some stress already.
Mostly, though, we just don’t see the need to kill the animals. Surely Gilmer and the vultures could coexist for a few weeks each fall.