It's that time of the years again. The time when the woods around us are full of critters preparing to give birth or are already raising their young. That constitutes a lot of movement, foraging for food. A lot of that movement is across our roads.
Wildlife activity is accelerated during the early morning or late afternoon hours when we humanoids may not at our best being either half awake or tired with visibility at its lowest point. I can only hope that is the reason for the accelerated road kill we are experiencing and not to be attributed to drivers who are just too busy or too self-important to ease up on the gas, maybe give the brakes a gentle touch and give that animal a chance to live. Give Mom a chance to return to her brood hidden in the woods.
Those little furry critters don’t have a chance against a five thousand pound automobile running 60 miles an hour, well 70 but nobody else around so who will know. The animals simply don’t understand the dynamics involved. Squirrels are the worst offenders. They will get almost across, become frightened, turn around and run back in front of you trying to get back to their nest.
There is one critter around here, still in large numbers, even with the mass removal of our forests, that will make you wish you had paid a little more attention to the road ahead of you when you hit them. Deer can weigh in between 100 and 150 pounds. Here again their favorite time to move about is very early morning and very late in the day. The response, “I hit a deer ,“ is frequently heard in response to the question. “Good grief! What happened to you?” Remember, you see one deer you can bet there are more coming.
In conjunction with the spiraling road kill count, we have nature’s own cleanup crews, the vultures. Not buzzards, vultures. Buzzards basically are in Europe. Turkey vultures are on almost every continent but specifically in North America.
We have two types of vultures, the black vulture and the turkey vulture. The latter is the one with the red head that, incidentally, you will never see at roadside. Turkey vultures are scent hunters. They are able to detect the location of a carcass without actually seeing it. They can fly aloft in wide circles until they detect the spiraling scent trail of a carcass originating deep in the woods. Turkey vultures do not need to hunt for food along open roads, thus eliminating the danger of being hit by a vehicle being mindlessly pointed down a highway by a humanoid.
The black vulture hunts by sight only. They will often follow the turkey vulture to its find and steal their food but generally they have to see the carcass. Thus the frequenting of open roadbeds. The vlack vulture is subject to be run over. That is usually what you see laying in the road with a crushed body and maybe a wing sticking up and maybe next to an animal carcass.
Neither turkey vultures nor black vultures hunt at night. They are middle of the day scavengers. Poor visibility for a driver is generally no excuse to run over them. There are those kind of folks who will intentionally hit vultures or anything else in the road. Maybe they had a day off from the institution.
Both species are protected by the Migratory Bird Act of 1972 with fines or imprisonment up to $10,000 and 10 years in jail. You would probably have to kill a whole flock of Canadian geese to get the maximum but one vulture is a violation.
You can frequently see vultures flying around in slow spiraling circles or swooping across the roadway in graceful controlled flight. All that ends when they land. They become slow and clumsy. They try to hop to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Getting airborne requires serious effort and a delayed takeoff. They don’t seem to grasp quickly enough the threat of an oncoming vehicle being steered by the walking dead.
As the driver of a vehicle, you are totally responsible for being always aware of conditions in front of you. Period. The sudden appearance of wildlife represents as much a hazard to you as to the animal. Leave early, slow down, be alert. Try, just for once, easing your foot off the accelerator and maybe touching that brake pedal very softly. Give that animal just a few extra seconds to react and live. Even with the best driving habits, impact is sometimes unavoidable. So be it. You have to drive safely under any conditions. Running off the road or slamming on brakes is not recommended. All too often though, impact with wildlife is very avoidable.
Tailgating is a regular past time around here. Use the “3,000” rule so the person in front of you has the time and distance to slow down for a creature crossing or standing in the road without worrying about you running into their rear end. When the car ahead of you passes a fixed object, fence post, sign, grease spot, count, “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand”. If you arrive at that same spot before you get to 3,000 you are following to close.It works for any speed. Following to close is a moving violation in itself.
On behalf of Bryan County’s wildlife I thank you in advance for your consideration of the value of our wildlife.
Hubbard is a Savannah native and a former Green Beret. He lives in South Bryan and is involved in local history. He’s also a conservationist.