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air, as they glide obliquely towards the earth, is often as great as that
of our largest hawks, when falling on their prey; but they never reach
the ground in this manner, always checking when about 100 yards high,
and _going several rounds_, to _examine well the spot they are about to
alight on_. The _Vultur Aura_ cannot bear cold weather well; the few
who, during the heat of summer, extend their excursions to the middle
or northern states, generally return at the approach of winter; and I
believe also, that very few of these birds breed east of the pine swamps
of New Jersey. They are much attached to particular roosting-trees, and
I know will come to them every night from a great distance. On alighting
on these, each of them, anxious for a choice of place, creates always a
general disturbance; and often, when quite dark, their hissing is heard
in token of this inclination for supremacy. These roosting-trees of the
Buzzards are generally in deep swamps, and mostly in high dead cypress
trees; frequently, however, they roost with the carrion crows (_Vultur
atratus_), and then it is on the largest dead timber of our fields,
not unfrequently near the houses. Sometimes, also, this bird will roost
close to the body of a thickly leaved tree: in such a position I have
killed several when hunting wild turkeys by moonlight, mistaking them
for these latter birds.

In Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Carolina, they prepare to breed
early in the month of February, in common with most of the genus _Falco_.
The most remarkable habit attached to their life is now to be seen: they
assemble in parties of eight or ten, sometimes more, on large fallen logs,
males and females, exhibiting the strongest desire to please mutually,
and forming attachments in the choice of a mate, when each male, after
many caresses, leads his partner off on the wing from the group, neither
to mix nor associate with any more, until their offspring are well able
to follow them in the air; after which, and until incubation takes place
(about two weeks), they are seen sailing side by side the whole day.

These birds form no nest, yet are very choice respecting the place of
deposit for their _two_ eggs. Deep in the swamps, but always above the
line of overflowing water-mark, a large hollow tree is sought, either
standing or fallen, and the eggs are dropped on the mouldering particles
inside, sometimes immediately near the entrance, at other times as
much as twenty feet within. Both birds alternately incubate, and each
feeds the other, by disgorging the contents of the stomach, or part of
them, immediately before the bird that is sitting. Thirty-two days are
required to bring forth the young from the shell; a thick down covers
them completely; the parents, at that early period, and indeed for nearly
two weeks, feed them by disgorging food considerably digested from their
bills, in the manner of the common pigeons. The down acquires length,
becomes thinner, and of a darker tint as the bird grows older. The young
vultures, at three weeks, are large for their age, weighing then upwards
of a pound, but extremely clumsy and inactive; unable to keep up their
wings, then partly covered by large pin feathers, dragging them almost
upon the ground, and bearing their whole weight on the full length of
their legs and feet.

If approached at that time by a stranger or enemy, they hiss with a noise
resembling that made by a strangling cat or fox, swell themselves, and
hop sideways as fast as in their power. The parents, while sitting, and
equally disturbed, act in the same manner; fly only a very short distance,
waiting there the departure of the offender, to resume their duty. As
the young grow larger, the parents simply throw their food before them;
and, with all their exertions, seldom bring their offspring fat to the
field. Their nests become so fetid, before the final departure of the
young birds, that a person forced to remain there half an hour would be
in danger of suffocation.

I have been frequently told, that the same pair will not abandon their
first nest or place of deposit, unless broken up during incubation.
This would attach to the vulture a constancy of affection that I cannot
believe exists; as I do not think that pairing, in the manner described,
is of any longer duration than the necessitous call of nature for the
one season; and again, were they so inclined, they would never congregate
in the manner they do, but would go in single pairs all their lives like

Vultures do not possess, in any degree, the power of bearing off their
prey as falcons do, unless it be slender portions of entrails hanging
by the bill. When chased by others from a carcass, it even renders them
very awkward in their flight, and forces them to the earth again almost

Many persons in Europe believe that Buzzards prefer putrid flesh to
any other. This is a mistake. Any flesh that they can at once tear with
their very powerful bill in pieces, is swallowed, no matter how fresh.
What I have said of their killing and devouring young animals, affords
sufficient proofs of this; but it frequently happens that these birds
are compelled to wait until the _hide_ of their prey will yield to the
bill. I have seen a large dead alligator, surrounded by vultures and
carrion crows, of which nearly the whole of the flesh was so completely
decomposed before these birds could perforate the tough skin of the
monster, that, when at last it took place, their disappointment was
apparent, and the matter, in an almost fluid state, abandoned by the

The above account of my experiments was read on the 16th day of December
1826, and was what I may call my "maiden speech." Well do I remember the
uneasy feelings which I experienced: the audience was large, and composed
of many of the most distinguished men of that enlightened country. My
paper was a long one; and it contradicted all former opinions on the
subject under discussion; yet the cheering appearance of kindness which
every where met my eye, as I occasionally glanced around, gradually
dispelled my uneasiness, and brought me to a state of confidence. The
reading of the paper being at length accomplished, I was congratulated by
the President, as well as by every member present. Many questions were
put to me, all of which I answered as well as I could. My esteemed and
learned friend, Professor JAMESON, requested permission to publish my
paper in his valuable journal, which I most readily granted. Strolling
homeward, I felt proud that I had at last broken the charm by which
men had so long been held in ignorance respecting the history of our
Vultures, assured that the breach which I had made upon a general and
deeply rooted opinion, must gradually dissolve it, as well as many other
absurdities which have for ages infested science, like the vile grub
beneath the bark of the noblest forest tree, retarding its growth, until
happily removed by the constant hammerings of the industrious Woodpecker!

I returned to America, urged by enthusiasm, to pursue the study of Nature
in the majestic forests; and finding that doubts excited by persons
prejudiced against me, existed in the minds of some individuals, I
resolved to have my series of experiments repeated by some other person,
in those districts where Vultures abound, and in the presence of a
number of scientific men, with the view of satisfying the incredulous as
much as in my power. My travels were continued, and I became acquainted
with one of the best practical ornithologists our country affords, and
moreover a man of general learning, my worthy and esteemed friend the
Reverend JOHN BACHMAN of Charleston, South Carolina. To him I frequently
wrote, requesting him to make experiments on the faculty of smelling
in our vultures. In the winter of 1833-4, the following were made, and
afterwards published in LOUDON'S Magazine of Natural History (No. 38,
March 1834, p. 164).

"On the 16th December 1833, I commenced a series of experiments on the
habits of our Vultures, which continued till the end of the month, and
these have been renewed at intervals till the 15th of January 1834.
Written invitations were sent to all the Professors of the two Medical
Colleges in this city, to the officers and some of the members of the
Philosophical Society, and such other individuals as we believed might
take an interest in the subject. Although Mr AUDUBON was present during
most of this time, and was willing to render any assistance required of
him, yet he desired that we might make the experiments ourselves—that
we might adopt any mode that the ingenuity or experience of others could
suggest, at arriving at the most correct conclusions. The manner in which
these experiments were made, together with the results, I now proceed
to detail.

There were two points in particular on which the veracity of AUDUBON
had been assailed, _1st_, Whether the Vultures feed on fresh or putrid
flesh, and, _2d_, Whether they are attracted to their food by the eye
or scent.

On the first head it was unnecessary to make many experiments, it being
a subject with which even the most casual observer amongst us is well
acquainted. It is well known that the roof of our market-house is covered
with these birds every morning, waiting for any little scrap of fresh
meat that may be thrown to them by the butchers! At our slaughter-pens,
the offal is quickly devoured by our vultures, whilst it is yet warm
from the recent death of the slain animal. I have seen the _Vultur Aura_
a hundred miles in the interior of the country, where he may be said to
be altogether in a state of nature, regaling himself on the entrails of
a deer which had been killed not an hour before. Two years ago, Mr Henry
Ward, who is now in London, and who was in the employ of the Philosophical
Society of this city, was in the habit of depositing at the foot of my
garden, in the suburbs of Charleston, the fresh carcasses of the birds he
had skinned, and in the course of half an hour, both species of Vulture,
and particularly the Turkey Buzzard, came and devoured the whole. Nay,
we discovered that Vultures fed on the bodies of those of their own
species that had been thus exposed. A few days ago, a Vulture that had
been killed by some boys in the neighbourhood, and that had fallen near
the place where we were performing our experiments, attracted, on the
following morning, the sight of a Turkey Buzzard, who commenced pulling
off its feathers and feeding upon it. This brought down two of the Black
Vultures, who joined him in the repast. In this instance, the former
chased away the two latter to some distance,—an unusual occurrence, as
the Black Vulture is the strongest bird, and generally keeps off the
other species. We had the dead bird lightly covered with some rice chaff,
where it still remains undiscovered by the Vultures.

_2d_, Whether is the Vulture attracted to its food by the sense of smell
or sight? A number of experiments were tried to satisfy us on this head,
and all led to the same result. A few of these I proceed to detail.

_1st_, A dead Hare (_Lepus timidus_), a Pheasant (_Phasianus colchicus_),
a Kestrel (_Falco Tinnunculus_), a recent importation from Europe,
together with a wheel-barrow full of offal from the slaughter-pens, were
deposited on the ground, at the foot of my garden. A frame was raised
above it at the distance of 12 inches from the earth; this was covered
with brushwood, allowing the air to pass freely beneath it, so as to
convey the effluvium far and wide; and although 25 days have now gone
by, and the flesh has become offensive, not a single Vulture appears to
have observed it, though hundreds have passed over it, and some very
near it, in search of their daily food. Although the Vultures did not
discover this dainty mess, the dogs in the vicinity, who appeared to
have better olfactory nerves, frequently visited the place, and gave us
much trouble in the prosecution of our experiments.

_2d_, I now suggested an experiment which would enable us to test the
inquiry whether the Vulture would be attracted to an object by the sight
alone. A coarse painting on canvass was made, representing a sheep skinned
and cut open. This proved very amusing;—no sooner was this picture placed
on the ground, than the Vultures observed it, alighted near, walked over
it, and some of them commenced tugging at the painting. They seemed much
disappointed and surprised, and after having satisfied their curiosity,
flew away. This experiment was repeated more than fifty times, with the
same result. The painting was then placed within fifteen feet of the
place where the offal was deposited; they came as usual, walked around
it, but in no instance, evinced the slightest symptoms of their having
scented the offal which was so near him.

_3d_, The most offensive portions of the offal were now placed on the
earth; these were covered over by a thin canvass cloth; on this were
strewed several pieces of fresh beef. The Vultures came, ate the flesh
that was in sight, and although they were standing on a quantity beneath
them, and although their bills were frequently within the eighth of an
inch of this putrid matter, they did not discover it. We made a small
rent in the canvass, and they at once discovered the flesh, and began to
devour it. We drove them away, replaced the canvass with a piece that
was entire; again they commenced eating the fresh pieces exhibited to
their view, without discovering the hidden food they were trampling upon.

_4th_, The medical gentlemen who were present made a number of experiments
to test the absurdity of a story, widely circulated in the United States,
through the newspapers, that the eye of the Vulture, when perforated,
and the sight extinguished, would in a few minutes be restored, in
consequence of his placing his head under his wing, the down of which was
said to renew his sight. The eyes were perforated; I need not add, that
although they were refilled, and had the appearance of rotundity, yet
the bird became blind, and that it was beyond the power of the healing
art to restore his lost sight. His life was, however, preserved, by
occasionally putting food in his mouth. In this situation they placed him
in a small out-house, hung the flesh of the hare (which had now become
offensive) within his reach; nay, they frequently placed it within an
inch of his nostrils, but the bird gave no evidence of any knowledge
that his favourite food was so near him. This was repeated from time to
time during an interval of twenty-four days (the period of his death),
with the same results.

We were not aware that any other experiment could be made to enable us to
arrive at more satisfactory conclusions; and as we feared, if prolonged,
they might become offensive to the neighbours, we abandoned them."

As my humble name can scarcely be known to many of those into whose
hands this communication may fall, I have thought proper to obtain the
signature of some of the gentlemen who aided me in, or witnessed these
experiments; and I must also add, that there was not an individual
among the crowd of persons who came to judge for themselves, who did not
coincide with those who have given their signatures to this certificate.

"We the subscribers, having witnessed the experiments made on the habits
of the Vultures of Carolina (_Cathartes Aura_ and _Cathartes Jota_),
commonly called Turkey Buzzard and Carrion Crow, feel assured that they
devour fresh as well as putrid food of any kind, and that they are guided
to their food altogether through their sense of sight, and not that of

ROBERT HENRY, A.M., President of the College of South Carolina.

JOHN WAGNER, M.D., Prof. of Surg. at the Med. Col. State So. Car.

HENRY R. FROST, M.D., Pro. Mat. Med. Col. State So. Car.

C. F. LEITNER, Lecturer on Bot. and Nat. His. So. Car.



It now remains for me to present you with an account of those habits
of the Black Vulture which have not been described above. This bird
is a constant resident in all our Southern States, extends far up the
Mississippi, and continues the whole year in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois,
and even in the State of Ohio as far as Cincinnati. Along the Atlantic
coast, it is, I believe, rarely seen farther east than Maryland. It
seems to give a preference to maritime districts, or the neighbourhood
of water. Although shy in the woods, it is half domesticated in and
about our cities and villages, where it finds food without the necessity
of using much exertion. Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, Natchez,
and other cities, are amply provided with these birds, which may be
seen flying or walking about the streets the whole day in groups. They
also regularly attend the markets and shambles, to pick up the pieces
of flesh thrown away by the butchers, and, when an opportunity occurs,
leap from one bench to another, for the purpose of helping themselves.
Hundreds of them are usually found, at all hours of the day, about the
slaughter-houses, which are their favourite resort. They alight on the
roofs and chimney-tops, wherever these are not guarded by spikes or
pieces of glass, which, however, they frequently are, for the purpose
of preventing the contamination by their ordure of the rain water, which
the inhabitants of the Southern States collect in tanks, or cisterns, for
domestic use. They follow the carts loaded with offal or dead animals,
to the places in the suburbs where these are deposited, and wait the
skinning of a cow or horse, when in a few hours they devour its flesh,
in the company of the dogs, which are also accustomed to frequent such
places. On these occasions, they fight with each other, leap about and
tug in all the hurry and confusion imaginable, uttering a harsh sort of
hiss or grunt, which may be heard at a distance of several hundred yards.
Should eagles make their appearance at such a juncture, the Carrion
Crows retire, and patiently wait until their betters are satisfied, but
they pay little regard to the dogs. When satiated, they rise together,
should the weather be fair, mount high in the air, and perform various
evolutions, flying in large circles, and alternately plunging and rising,
until they at length move off in a straight direction, or alight on the
dead branches of trees, where they spread out their wings and tail to
the sun or the breeze. In cold and wet weather they assemble round the
chimney-tops, to receive the warmth imparted by the smoke. I never heard
of their disgorging their food on such occasions, that being never done
unless when they are feeding their young, or when suddenly alarmed or
caught. In that case, they throw up the contents of their stomach with
wonderful quickness and power.

No law exists for the protection of this or the other species, their
usefulness alone affording them security in the Southern States, although
the people generally speak of a law with the view of preventing them from
being molested. As to their propensity to attack live animals, at least
those in a sickly state, although I could adduce numerous instances, it
will suffice to produce the following attestations:—

"We the subscribers, natives of South Carolina, certify, that the
Vultures of this State, commonly called the Turkey Buzzard and Carrion
Crow, particularly the latter, will attack and destroy living animals,
by feeding on them, such as young poultry, and the young of sheep and
hogs; that they will also attack grown animals when in a helpless state,
and destroy them in like manner.


32 miles from Charleston_, _25th Jan. 1834_."

"I hereby certify, that some years ago—I cannot specify the precise
time, but have a perfect recollection of the fact—I saw a horse lying on
the common, about half-a-mile from the city of Charleston, surrounded
by a number of Buzzards, apparently feeding on him. My curiosity being
excited by observing the horse move, I approached and drove off the
Buzzards. They had already plucked out the eyes of the horse, and picked
a wound in the anus, where I discovered a jet of blood from a small
artery, which had been divided. I am well satisfied that the horse did
not die for many hours afterwards. He struggled considerably whilst the
Buzzards were operating on him, but was unable to rise from the ground.


CHARLESTON, _5th Feb. 1834_."

"I certify, that at my plantation, about four miles from the city
of Charleston, one of my cattle, about two years old, in feeding in a
ditch, got its horn so entangled in the root of a cane, as to be unable
to get out. In this situation it was attacked by the Turkey Buzzard
and Carrion Crow, who picked out one of its eyes, and would have killed
it by feeding on it while alive, if it had not been discovered. It was
extricated and driven home, but had been so much injured, that I had it
knocked on the head to put it out of its misery.


CHARLESTON, _26th Feb. 1834_."

The Carrion Crows of Charleston resort at night to a swampy wood across
the Ashley river, about two miles from the city. I visited this roosting
place in company with my friend JOHN BACHMAN, approaching it by a close
thicket of undergrowth, tangled with vines and briars. When nearly under
the trees on which the birds were roosted, we found the ground destitute
of vegetation, and covered with ordure and feathers, mixed with the
broken branches of the trees. The stench was horrible. The trees were
completely covered with birds, from the trunk to the very tips of the
branches. They were quite unconcerned; but, having determined to send
them the contents of our guns, and firing at the same instant, we saw
most of them fly off, hissing, grunting, disgorging, and looking down
on their dead companions as if desirous of devouring them. We kept up a
brisk fusillade for several minutes, when they all flew off to a great
distance high in the air; but as we retired, we observed them gradually
descending and settling on the same trees. The piece of ground was about
two acres in extent, and the number of Vultures we estimated at several
thousands. During very wet weather, they not unfrequently remain the
whole day on the roost; but when it is fine, they reach the city every
morning by the first glimpse of day.

The flight of this species, although laboured, is powerful and protracted.
Before rising from the ground, they are obliged to take several leaps,
which they do in an awkward sidelong manner. Their flight is continued
by flappings, repeated eight or ten times, alternating with sailings
of from thirty to fifty yards. The wings are disposed at right angles
to the body, and the feet protrude beyond the tail, so as to be easily
seen. In calm weather, they may be heard passing over you at the height
of forty or fifty yards; so great is the force with which they beat the
air. When about to alight, they allow their legs to dangle beneath, the
better to enable them to alight.

They feed on all sorts of flesh, fresh or putrid, whether of quadrupeds
or birds, as well as on fish. I saw a great number of them eating a dead
shark near the wharf at St Augustine in East Florida; and I observed
them many times devouring young cormorants and herons in the nest, on
the keys bordering that peninsula.

The Carrion Crow and Turkey Buzzard possess great power of recollection,
so as to recognise at a great distance a person who has shot at them, and
even the horse on which he rides. On several occasions I have observed
that they would fly off at my approach, after I had trapped several,
when they took no notice of other individuals; and they avoided my horse
in the pastures, after I had made use of him to approach and shoot them.

At the commencement of the love season, which is about the beginning
of February, the gesticulation and parade of the males are extremely
ludicrous. They first strut somewhat in the manner of the Turkey Cock,
then open their wings, and, as they approach the female, lower their
head, its wrinkled skin becoming loosened, so as entirely to cover the
bill, and emit a puffing sound, which is by no means musical. When these
actions have been repeated five or six times, and the conjugal compact
sealed, the "happy pair" fly off, and remain together until their young
come abroad. These birds form no nest, and consequently _never breed

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