Today it’s nothing but a dilapidated pile of old lumber in the middle of a wheat field; so far off the road in fact that it takes binoculars to even see it there. We locals don’t even notice it anymore and neither would anyone else were it not for the few trees and old windmill nearby. It was an old shed with a small grainery in one corner; the kind where you would shovel loose grain into the room and keep adding boards in the doorway as the level of the grain rose. There was once a house trailer there too that was the first home of some friends of ours when they first married. But to us the place will always be known as the vulture nursery.
Several years ago I was told that a pair of turkey vultures had nested in the old shed for years. We slipped back there that evening, and sure enough, in the very corner of the little grainery room was a female vulture firmly planted over two eggs. Turkey vultures are most necessary to our environment and are part of God’s dead-animal-cleanup crew. They are the most amazing birds to watch as they soar effortlessly on the rising thermals, and they possess a digestive system so sophisticated and iron-clad that they can eat even diseased carcasses without harm. Yet, in spite of all their merits, they are contenders for the homeliest creature God ever made.
With an old board we were able to gingerly lift one corner of mom vulture that night to see the two eggs beneath her, and she didn’t seem to mind much. Baby vultures begin life in the most humble surroundings imaginable. The old shed was on its last leg even back then. The only way inside was to squeeze through a small opening in one end, then clamor over and around stacks of old lumber to get to the grainery in the opposite end, all the while listening to the partially-collapsed roof above you creak and groan as you went. The nest was flat on the floor amidst mud and vulture droppings from past years.
We paid regular visits to the old shed that year and watched the process unfold. Soon there were two pure-white balls of fluff that soon grew into two feisty vulture chicks that stood back-to-back and hissed at us each time we were able to view them without mom around. Then one day the nest was empty, but as we searched the sky, suddenly there they were roosting on top of the old windmill outside watching us from their new and better vantage point, while in the sky and always close, soared mom and dad.
No vultures have nested in the old shed now for years; its total collapse left the grainery in the far corner accessible from all sides, exposed to predators and the elements and I don’t think they feel secure there anymore. If only the old shed could talk and tell us about all the grain that was unloaded there, shovel-by-shovel over the years. And about all the kids that played within its walls and climbed in its loft. And yes, even about all the turkey vultures born and raised there. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]