Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.
One day earlier this month I discovered a recently deceased Virginia Opossum out by one of the wood piles. No idea what might have happened to it though it was not long after some severely cold weather. I decided to take it down into our woods and place it in front of one of the trail cameras to see what might come along. I waited several days before checking the camera and discovered a lot of the woodland creatures had stopped by to investigate, dine, or perhaps pay their respects. Here are some of the highlights (best viewed full screen with volume up)::
The first animal caught by the camera coming to the opossum scene was another opossum. Wonder if they had met? I am guessing they had.
— Another Virginia Opossum comes to the scene the first night after I placed the dead opossum near the camera. This camera has seen this live opossum before so this may be a regular evening route.
First on the scene on the day after I put out the carcass was a Turkey Vulture (not surprising, really). Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell and can locate carrion from great distances and heights (unlike Black Vultures, which rely mostly on vision). Turkey Vultures have an extremely large olfactory bulb (the area of the brain responsible for processing odors). Recent research has shown that they also have more mitral cells than any other bird that has been studied. Mitral cells, found in all animals, help transmit information about smell to the brain.
— The carcass is on a slope, so I aimed the camera slightly downhill of it, figuring it might move down slope if an animal fed on it. Naturally, this first vulture eventually pulled the carcass uphill and out of sight of the camera!
Thirty minutes after the first vulture arrived, another one landed and some threat displays ensued. The second bird took off shorty afterward. It reappeared off camera a couple of hours later in the afternoon. Soon there was a scuffle…
— Two Turkey Vultures arguing over who goes first in the possum buffet line
Turkey Vultures appeared on camera for 3 days from February 5-8, although the carcass had been pulled slightly out of view on the other two days. Other visitors in those first couple of days seemed mainly driven by curiosity rather than hunger and included a Raccoon and three deer.
— A rare daytime appearance at the carcass by one of the local Raccoons
— The largest of the White-tailed Deer to check on the dead opossum
All three deer that have stopped at the carcass have gingerly sniffed the area near the dead opossum and then walked away.
This next clip is a very short one – a screech owl flying off with something from a couple of feet away from the carcass. Was it a piece of meat from the dead animal, or did it catch something like a mouse that was investigating the site?
— The owl flew off so quickly that I cannot tell what it has picked up
Nine days after I placed the dead opossum on the hillside, a Red-tailed Hawk shows up and picks at it. Raptors are frequent visitors at carrion, though few are as efficient in our region as the Turkey Vulture.
— This juvenile Red-tailed Hawk picked at the carcass and drug it a little ways before flying off after just a few minutes of activity
If you looked and listened closely, some of the video clips had flies buzzing through near the carcass, probably one of the first things to arrive at any dead animal when temperatures are much above freezing. Nothing is wasted in the forest, death brings life, and other animals either take advantage of the new food source or seem curious or at least interested in the passing of a fellow woodland creature. It will be interesting to see what else visits the opossum as the days go on.