2019-01-01 / Shorts

Reading is for the Birds

This year’s Centre County Reads pick focuses on nature’s “unloved bird.”
Kelsey Lentz

When most people think of a turkey vulture, they think of an unattractive bird that scavenges on carcasses. But this overlooked species is actually an incredibly important aspect of our ecosystem, so much so that Centre County Reads has chosen Penn State alumna Katie Fallon’s nonfiction book, Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird, as the featured book for the 2019 series.

Centre County Reads is taking the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” literally by focusing this year’s events on a bird whose beauty can truly only be seen within — and within the pages of Vulture.

“Turkey vultures are the peaceful recyclers of the animal kingdom, but despite being abundant and ubiquitous, they’re often misunderstood and unappreciated,” says Fallon. “They play a very important role in healthy ecosystems by removing carcasses that might otherwise contribute to the spread of disease.”

Maria Burchill, head of adult services at Schlow Centre Region Library, says that a lot of people were surprised by this pick and the emphasis on such a seemingly irrelevant bird. She explains that through partnering with the Center for American Literary Studies, they are able to bring in authors like Fallon whose work sheds light on important issues that are worth discussing.

“Through the book you learn that turkey vultures are very important to our ecosystem. There is also a certain beauty in the fact that they are part of what makes nature work,” Burchill says.

Since 2003, Centre County Reads has brought people together through discussion across the community on specific issues and concepts. Exploring the nature genre through Vulture this year will foster conversation about the environment and the value of nature, a theme that has not yet been touched on by Centre County Reads.

“A lot of people in the Centre Region are very focused on the environment and much more aware and invested in what happens to our farmland, watershed and other environmental concerns,” Burchill says, “So we thought that in this case, it was time to look at nature as a community discussion.”

In addition to the discussions, there will be various activities that will get the community out and into to nature such as a winter bird walk and a Meet the Creek live bird demo event at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

That creates another connection — Fallon used to work at the nature center while studying at Penn State.

Fallon is well-known in the area, due in part to her environmental work during her college years, and she is looking forward to Centre County Reads taking a closer look at the local ecosystem.

“Penn State and Central Pennsylvania definitely cultivated my passion for nature and ecology. I spent many weekends hiking and camping on the Mid State Trail and in Rothrock State Forest, especially Bear Meadows Natural Area. I enjoyed cooling off at Whipple Dam State Park and exploring

Shingletown Gap,” says Fallon, “Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is one of my favorite places anywhere. I can’t wait to see their recent renovations.”

Fallon also notes that as an undergrad she spent a lot of time at Schlow working on reading for her literature classes or creative pieces for workshop and that being able to be a part of Centre County Reads feels like coming full circle.

“Programs that foster a sense of belonging — such as Centre County Reads — can help develop vibrant, healthy communities. I’m honored to be a Centre County Reads author, and I look forward to my visit.” •SCM

Centre County Reads kicks off this month with a showing of Winged Migration on Jan. 29 at Schlow Centre Region Library (and another on Feb. 1 at the Centre County Library & Historical Museum in Bellefonte). Find out about more events, including Fallon’s April visit to the area, at

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