Pat Shingleton: "Vultures and Winter Count"
Turkey vultures are beneficial to Louisiana as they not only clean the roadways of decomposing animals, also known as “road-kill,” but feasts on trash discarded from motorists. The vulture's head-shape provides easier access inside a carcass. Noticing the scavenging vultures along our Interstates, highways and byways may be a stomach turner and another function of the bird is borderline gross. To stay cool, it uses a process known as urohydrosis which is a polite way of noting that it urinates on its legs to prevent overheating. This process serves two purposes for the vulture. The evaporating urine cools blood circulating through its legs and also activates a disinfectant that eliminates germs that the scavenger may have absorbed from an earlier breakfast, lunch or dinner. In closing, “winter count,” afforded Native Americans a means of recording the winter season. Many tribes went into hibernation during the harsh winters and sketched images that also included battles, deaths of leaders and extreme climate conditions. Some of the winter count entries date back to 1686 where John K. Bear noted “ice all over the land.” In 1711 Batiste Good journaled, “four lodges drowned winter” and Ben Kindle reported in 1773, “Even the dogs got snow blindness.” The Native American, known as American Horse, noted from 1789 to 1791, “They could not hunt on account of the deep snow” and floods in 1825 to 1826 found multiple authors reporting, “Missouri floods, kills 30 lodges.” Researchers believe these entries suggest that Native American winter counts contain valuable climate records.