Black Vultures in Kingsland, Texas.
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.
I photographed vultures often when I lived in Texas where they are welcomed as God's cleaning crew and admired for their huge size and interesting habit of circling around warm updrafts. (No, vultures do not circle around dead animals). However, Black Vultures are also interesting for another reason--they are monogamous, and they mate for life.
While photographing and studying vultures I also noticed that Black Vultures were actually affectionate toward each other. For example, one afternoon my husband and I were driving through town and noticed two vultures sitting side by side on a rooftop. We pulled the truck over to the side of the road to watch. One of the vultures--I assumed it was the male--would leave on occasion and fly in circles around the other then each time it came in to land it was just a little bit closer until he was right beside her. It was fascinating to watch. Then it started to rain and the bird did the most amazing thing--he spread his wing around her back as if to protect her and keep her warm.
I told this story to a friend who also studies birds and he laughed and told me I was trying to attribute human habits to animals, but I know what I saw, and my husband saw the same thing. It was a moment we will never forget. As we watched those two birds sitting on the rooftop my husband and I sat in our truck holding hands and watched the cuddling vultures in the rain.
Black Vultures form such a close bond with each other that they spend all of their time together, not just during mating season. They sit close to each other, or if they are on separate posts, across from each other or side by side. In vulture culture flirting with other vultures is taboo. In fact, vultures will drive cheaters out of their venue (flock).
I firmly believe they enjoy each other's company because they are in love.
Being in love is more than just giggling and flirting, buying gifts and dating, though I do believe those activities are important to human relationships. It may be important to Black Vultures, as well. For example, there was a couple of Black Vultures that lived in the forest behind our Texas home. Every night I climbed onto the roof of our house to photograph the sunset. Every night, those vultures flew out of the forest and onto a large, metal post in the distance.
The vulture couple watching the sunset. When the sun went down they would fly back over my head as I sat on the roof and into the forest behind me. Black Vultures build their nests on the ground and it was around Valentine's Day, so I think they had a nest behind the house. It would be the perfect spot, right next to our stream and with a never-ending supply of small birds that I kept well-fed!
They sat side by side, facing the setting sun, and when the sun was down they flew back over my head and returned to their forest home. This may just be my opinion, but I believe they did this because they were "in love," because they enjoyed each other's company all of the time.
Sunset over Kingsland, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.
And I guess that's my point. It's fun to fall in love and it's fun to flirt and go on dates, but you know you are truly "in love" when you are willing to be there for each other through the good and the bad, through the long haul, for life, and you truly enjoy each other's company. You know you are in love when you are willing to sit next to each other in a rain storm and one of you places your wing across the shoulders of the other to keep your partner warm and dry. That is being in love.