Cora came to us, out of the blue, late last summer. We don’t know why she chose us. Day after day she’d perch in the same branch, twenty feet off our deck.
Then we realized she could barely fly; somehow she’d lost half the feathers on her right wing, and she couldn’t fully extend it. She could hop, without much grace, from branch to branch, and she’d run through the woods at a good clip. But if she couldn’t get airborne, she’d starve.
We didn’t know what else to do, so we fed her. She usually went through a raw chicken thigh or drumstick, sometimes two, and every so often we’d get her some beef heart.
Black vultures are hard to miss – wingtip to wingtip they’re almost five feet and they weigh over four pounds, according to Sibley’s bird book. Even so, Cora made sure we knew when she was hungry. She’d hop up on the deck rail and look in at us through the kitchen window. If she got impatient she’d jump down and rap her beak on the glass slider.
Unlike otters or pandas, black vultures aren’t cute and cuddly. The cute-factor makes it easier, for instance, to raise money to save polar bear cubs than honeybees, even though the bees’ existence is every bit as precarious, and they’re more crucial to our existence. Although vultures are in no such danger – there are tons of them – climate change, apparently, is pushing their range northward. And just so you know, the same way geese form a “gaggle” and a lot of crows are a “murder,” when you see a bunch of vultures it’s called a “kettle.” (Whoever’s in charge of these things missed an opportunity to use that one for fish.) But even if they aren’t cuddly, they do have a certain charm; a couple of Mara’s pictures capture that.
Our naturalist friend, Dave Sigworth, who works at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, suggested “Cora” from her Latin name, Coragyps atratus. Dave also suggested her pronouns might as well be she/her, because even the experts have a hard time telling the difference, plus the timing was good because it was the centenary of women’s right to vote.