Debunking a Hollywood myth

by | Jun 18, 2021 | Newsletter

I have mentioned before and doubtless will again that I love research. Sometimes I include scenes while writing that I take for granted could have happened, although fact check the final draft to be on the safe side. That’s just as well, because there can be a few surprises, for instance, a scene I checked recently where vultures were drifting above a dying man. (In my mind nothing portrays impending doom quite like a great swirl of vultures).

Of course, you may be well ahead of me on this, but do you know what this image is?

Hokum, rubbish, pure Hollywood baloney.

Call it what you will, that is one of multitude untruths theater-going enthusiasts have learned from western movies, particularly the older ones. But moving right along. I started researching vultures, and they are fascinating. Not the prettiest of creatures, granted, but very, very interesting.

Instead of swirling about waiting for something or someone to die – they are carrion eaters so generally don’t attack live animals unless the beast is really sick – they are looking for food. The black vulture for example preys by sight, the turkey vulture by smell. Therefore, black vultures are often spotted high above a few turkey vultures letting the latter scout out dinner. When the turkey vultures have done all the hard work the black vultures swoop down and push the turkey vultures out of the way and gorge themselves silly.

Or, they could be drifting and waiting until larger predators finish eating what they’ve caught before flying in to finish of the scraps.

Regardless, poor Tex Silverstone, the brave sheriff who has lost his horse and his way in the desert is not going to be picked to death by a wake of vultures.

Oh, and if vultures are on the ground feeding and have a belly full of pronghorn and feel threatened, they may vomit to make themselves lighter so it’s easier to fly away. Apparently the vomit reach is up to 10 feet, so if you come across a wake of vultures I suggest it a good idea you stay well out of range.

I’m going to stay with the vulture theme because I think they may be my new favourite thing.

Did you know . . .

  • Natural gas has a component similar in smell to gases released from decomposing bodies. If pipeline engineers are looking for a gas leak and see vultures circling above a section of pipe, you can bet the farm that’s where the leak is.
  • Vultures urinate on their legs to cool down (Urohydrosis). Urine also kills any bugs they may have picked up from tromping through animal carcasses.
  • A group of vultures is called a ‘committee’, ‘venue’ or ‘volt’. If the group is flying they are referred to as a ‘kettle’, and if feeding, a ‘wake’.

I love to read. On my beside table at the moment is The Light is Dark Enough, by Vincent O’Sullivan. Described as a biographical portrait of one of New Zealand’s greatest artists, Ralph Hotere, it is a superb read full of insight of the man, his life, and the art world itself.

“Murder is like potato chips. You can’t stop at just one.”

– Stephen King

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