Walking over the brow of a hill in my pasture, I came upon the most ghastly, heart-stopping sight I’ve ever seen on the farm, or anywhere else for that matter. Perched on six fence posts in a row were six turkey vultures, alias Cathartis aura, or what we call buzzards. What made the scene so awesome was that when the big birds saw me, they raised their wings above their heads, as if preparing to launch into the air, but then just remained motionless. Each set of those wings spans some six feet from tip to tip, making the birds look bigger than eagles, bigger than condors, bigger to my startled eyes than Boeing 707s. Think of the mythical Thunderbird of American Indian folklore. Now think of six of them in a row at eye level, transfixing you with beady stares from stony eyes set in flaming red heads, surrounded by black feathers of doom. Adding to the ghoulish scene were more buzzards on the ground, tearing into the innards of a dead sheep, dragging its intestines out over the grass, quarreling with each other, all of them intent on gobbling down more sheep innards than the others. I was remembering how my father warned me as a child to stay way from buzzards. “To protect its young, a buzzard will puke on you,” he said. “Smells worse than skunk spray.” As I backed off, thinking of getting a camera, the raised wings flapped, the feet pushed off, and the icons of doomsday took to the air and silently drifted away.
Buzzards are birds of contrast. Soaring in the air, their earthy clumsy ugliness is transformed into majestic grace. They know how to ride the thermal air currents and glide effortlessly for hours high in the sky. Watching them with binoculars is more exciting than watching skydivers or meteor showers.
There is something more mystifying about buzzards to me than the sight of them. They are almost as ubiquitous as robins, with a range from the southern tip of South America to far up in Canada. Even though they are awesome to behold, humans for the most part give them scant attention. Buzzards are beneficial on the farm, cleaning up dead animals almost before the carcasses can rot and stink up the pasture fields. (On my farm, they get to eat a lot of dead raccoons.) Although quite vulnerable to human depredation, especially when they linger along the highways, cleaning up roadkill, risking becoming roadkill themselves, they are actually growing in number in most areas.
Read on over at Gene's blog The Contrary Farmer.
|Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, A Sanctuary of Trees: Beech Nuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions|