The current study, which they hope to publish this year, examines eight donated bodies in various micro-environments, mimicking possible crime scenes, throughout the Freeman Ranch field. Some remains lie on hard ground with minimal grass coverage, while others are partially or fully shaded under native plants, such as juniper trees.
Using motion-activated cameras and detailed field notes, Spradley and Hamilton documented vultures’ feeding habits, including how long they take to locate remains. The researchers also construct detailed maps to document how the birds distribute remains across different sites.
“If the vultures scatter the bones in a very predictable environment,” Spradley notes, “then we can educate law enforcement … on how to do recovery [and] where to look.”
An accurate time of death or recovering enough of a body for a successful identification could make all the difference to a family of a missing child or a defendant in a murder trial. It’s truly a matter of life and death.