from the book, "Petrified Lightning"
One colossal headache for a utility company that supplies natural gas is the ever—recurring possibility of a gas leak in the widely dispersed pipe system. In the southwestern desert areas, the problem appears to have been solved in a most remarkable way. Often, making do with the materials and resources that occur naturally in the area offers the best solutions. In this case, the resource is the turkey buzzard.
In southern California and Arizona turkey buzzards are quite abundant and deserve their reputation as nature's cleanup crew. Any animal that dies in the desert will be located almost immediately by these birds, with their extraordinary sense of smell. The buzzards descend on the body and, in a relatively short time, strip the carcass of everything edible. When they leave, only bones remain for the desert sun to reduce quickly to dust. Without the buzzard and other scavengers, the desert would become a disease—ridden habitat suitable only for bacteria to attack.
The buzzard's keen sense of smell would appear to offer very little help with gas leaks, especially since natural gas is odorless and tasteless. But strong—smelling substances are routinely added to natural gas because it is deadly dangerous and leaks must be detected readily. The simple solution: replace the usual added odor with one that the male turkey buzzard recognizes as the aroma of a female buzzard ready to mate. Their mating instincts instantly aroused, male turkey buzzards from miles around detect the leaks immediately and assemble in the area where they anticipate that some female will be soliciting their attentions.
Repair crews looking for a break in the line will search the sky for flocks of excited turkey buzzards. The birds can be found anxiously circling the precise location of the leak, jostling each other for the best position. Although their sharp eyes do not confirm the object of their ardor, their noses tell them that the invisible female is nearby. Excitement laced with frustration runs high, and overzealous buzzards have been known to make hostile advances toward the workers by flying over and bombing them, quite accurately, with droppings. Nevertheless, gas leaks are readily repaired, and the buzzards, when the scent of a female dissipates, vacate the premises and search elsewhere. Or they may become distracted by the aromatic, appetizing scent of a dead carcass.