Our Little Neighbors: Vultures

Vultures, the living lesson in life that reminds us to appreciate the beauty of nature in new ways. The Heart is home to both black and turkey vultures. The Turkey Vulture’s scientific name, Cathartes Aura, is indicative of their role in the ecosystem. It translates to “purifying breeze” or “golden purifier.” These terms may not come immediately to mind when thinking about vultures, but they do quite a bit of housekeeping. Like ravens, their dark wings and appetites have earned them a dark reputation and an intriguing mythology. 

Like the porcupine, there are conflicting accounts as to how they got their coats. It is interesting to note that while the two tales are nigh identical, their endings are quite contrary. Woven into each of these stories are suggestions that certain vulture characteristics stem from the events that transpired. 

In both, all birds are naked and seek suits from the creator. The vulture is sent to retrieve the suits because he is most capable of all the birds. On his journey, he flies close to the sun, burning his head. For making the arduous journey, he is rewarded with the pick of the litter. However, once a suit is discarded, it is no longer available to him. The vulture tries on all suits, discarding them for a variety of reasons. Finally, the only suit left is a too-small brown suit, making him hunch and hop to fit in. Descending in slow circles, he delivers the suits to earth. Upon his return, the other birds mock him for his shabby attire. His response is where the tales diverge. In one tale, he is proud that he had the pick of the litter and did not find the brilliant, eye-catching suits suitable. In another, he is ashamed of his drab garb. 

While their peculiar nature inspires, it also alienates. People kind enough to care for vultures are rewarded with uncommon insight into vulture culture. Vultures are reported to be playful, gentle, and intelligent. Captive turkey vultures can live up to 28 years old. Captive or wild, they are communal animals and often congregate in large groups. Though there are differences between black and turkey vultures, they frequently rub shoulders.

Next time you see a vulture, look for their grace and unique beauty. Even in the mundane or drab, nature is full of treasures, if only we have the heart to see them.

About the Author

Kimber M

Texas born and raised, I love the outdoors, animals, and time with my family.

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