For reasons not entirely clear to me, our part of Canaan has an abundance of vultures. Not a few, scattered buzzards soaring high and silently over the valley, but hundreds of birds. On late afternoons they come winging up our street by dozens and by scores, roosting in the tall white pines and Norway spruce near the elementary school.
Most are turkey vultures, whose familiar "V"shaped wings rarely flap as they ride the thermals. But we also have black vultures, a southern species increasing its range spreading northward for reasons that may include global climate change. Black vultures are smaller and more aggressive than the red headed turkey vulture and have white patches near their wing tips. Their egg shells are weakened by DDT and the ban of that toxin has prop ably aided the recovery and expansion of this species. They frequent garbage dumps - we have a transfer station in Canaan - and can make use of large carcasses. After the Battle of Gettysburg, when unburied horses made for a carrion bonanza, black vultures established a breeding population on Little Round Top at the extreme northern limit of the species range. They are now breeding in Massachusetts and are sometimes seen as far north as Maine.
Vultures have one of the most keenly developed senses of smell of any creature. Research has demonstrated that they can smell rotting flesh buried under leaves from thousands of feet above the ground. Contrary to western mythology, an unhorsed cavalryman crawling across the desert would be unlikely to attract a vulture's attention unless he had a chunk of badly cured sow belly in his haversack.
This still does not explain why Canaan is the epicenter of vulturedom in our area. We have a few farms out in East Canaan but no more open fields and tall trees than other towns in our area. The Housatonic River does create local and variable wind patterns that move up the valley and may influence where and when updrafts develop. Canaan Valley converges on the Housatonic Valley in our town, which may explain why raptors riding the currents would converge here, but I'm just speculating.