The Turkey Vulture
Yearly Cycle of
Power: Vernal Equinox to Autumnal Equinox
Time of Power : Noon
Attributes: Transmutation, Rebirth, Protection, Sharing, Efficiency, Passiveness, Purification
The Vulture, also known as a Buzzard: natureís janitor. This is a bird that is met with revulsion in the modern world by just about everyone. I promise you, though, that by the end of this article, you will think differently of them. They are vilified in our modern movies and television as harbingers of death. The reality though is that these are birds that donít kill anything, ever. The Latin name of the Turkey Vulture is Cathartes Aura which means 'golden purifier'. It shows more of the reverence that our ancestors had for this bird. I think itís quite an accurate term too as the Vulture is one that really purifies nature. I think part of the reason that these birds are vilified is that in our modern society, being ugly just doesnít cut it. And these birds are Ugly by our modern standards. The have brownish black feathers with gray flight feathers. Their heads are small compared to their body and completely bald. The heads are black in the juvenile and red in the adult of the species. The male and female of the species look almost identical, with the female being just slightly larger. Their beak is slightly hooked with a pinkish colour and a tan tip. Their feet have blunt talons and are not strong. They are about 30 inches long and have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. When they circle in the sky, their wings make a slight V shape. They are quite a big bird and are often confused with eagles when seen flying in the distance. In fact, they were classified under the family of birds of prey until quite recently. By comparing DNA, scientists realized that they werenít even closely related to birds of prey. Their closest living genetic relatives are storks. The Turkey vulture lives in a range between the southern parts of Canada all the way down to central America.
The Turkey Vulture is unique in many ways and has many special adaptations. It would have to. It is related to a stork and look how different it is from a stork. The first of these adaptations is that it has a highly developed sense of smell. This is unique as most birds have a very poor sense of smell. But the Vultures' sense of smell is so good that it locates its food first by smell, and then by sight. A second adaptation is that a Vulture can actually see thermal currents in the air. The advantage of this is that the Vulture is very energy efficient. It actually uses these thermals to soar for miles and miles without flapping. Basically it gets around without using much energy at all. This is a good lesson for us in our modern energy excessiveness. A third adaptation is that the vulture is resistant to diseases. In fact, the head of the vulture is bald so that there is less risk of infection when they stick their head inside a carcass. Another bizarre adaptation of the vulture is that when it is threatened it has a vomit response. This serves two purposes. First it repulses the would be attacker and second, it makes the Vulture that much lighter so that take off and flight are easier. One other interesting fact about the Vulture is that they have no real voice. The only sound they really make is a hiss.
When speaking of the Vulture it is very strange to speak in terms of Predator and Prey as these concepts don't truly apply to this species. The Vulture never preys upon anything. It is probably the gentlest of creatures on the earth. It never kills anything. Ever. It only eats things that have been killed by something else or died in some other way. Unlike Hollywoodís portrayal, Vultures never try to eat something still living. Further to this Vultures never eat the crops of people either. They only eat the dead and occasionally rotting fruit. They are truly natureís janitors as they only clean up the dead and dispose of rotting fruit. If you think of this on a grander scale the Vulture is really a protector as well. If those carcasses were allowed to fester, they would promote disease. When there is a large carcass, Vultures will communicate with each other so that many can dine on the same food source. Beyond this they will communicate and share with other species, like the condor. Scientists do not know how they communicate this as they only have a hiss for vocalization. Beyond this, most animals do this if there is a danger of counterattack from the intended victim. In the Vultures case though there is no danger of this as the victim is already dead, so it is only in the spirit of sharing that they engage in this behaviour.
Vultures are social creatures and often roost together in trees or urban structures. They prefer to live in grasslands, but a mix of forest and farmland as well. These birds are migratory but in a very interesting way. They migrate north on the vernal equinox and south on the autumnal equinox. How they know these exact dates is a bit of a mystery. When a pair of Vultures decide to mate, they lay their eggs in April nearly in the open, without a nest. This can be on the ground, in a crevice on a cliff, hollow logs, etc. Both parents incubate the eggs (usually 1 or 2 eggs) for about 40 days and then regurgitate food for the hatchlings for another several weeks. The Vulture hatchlings are then able to fend for themselves but may stick together as a family for several months following this. Vultures are monogamous and mate for life.
The Vulture has a rich mythological history around the world. The one common denominator in all the cultural Vulture myths is that it was not detested as it is on our modern world. It was revered as a purifier and life giver. People thought it was amazing that a creature could take in only death and from it produce life in the form of an egg. It was an amazing symbol of rebirth. In Egypt, the order goddess Maat was said to have the wings of a Vulture. The Greeks saw the vulture as a creature associated with Ares, but also with Prometheus and Zeus. The original creature that ate Prometheusí liver every day on orders from Zeus is said to be a Vulture, not an eagle. The Greeks also saw the vulture as being a descendant of the Griffin. It is hinted that Neith (Athena) was also associated with the vulture. The Native Americans saw the Vulture as a symbol of purification. Vulture feathers were used in work in grounding and in shape shifting to ensure that the Shaman would return to his own body. My favorite Vulture myth is a Native American one. It seems the sun was up to his old tricks again and was too close to earth. As a result it was too hot and people were getting a wicked tan. So the fox volunteered to put the sun back into the sky. He carried it a while in his mouth but dropped it when it got too hot. Thatís why the Foxes mouth is black. Then the opossum volunteered and wrapped it in its tail and carried it until it was too hot. You guessed it, thatís why the opossumís tail is black. Then the Vulture volunteered and even though it got too hot and even though it burned all the beautiful feathers off its head, the Vulture persisted and saved the world from the sun. It is this type of selflessness that I think best reflects the Vulture totem. In Arabic, the word Vega means Vulture, which indicates that the constellation Lyra was originally thought of as a Vulture. On first look you might think the Vulture associated with Chaos and Wisdom for its death and vermin aspects. But when you look further, you can see that a Vulture doesnít kill and isnít even present at the moment of death. They are simply converting death into life. And a Vulture doesnít spread disease, it prevents it. It restores order from chaos and brings life from death. To me, the more logical archetypes to associate with the Vulture are Inspiration and Order. The ancients tend to agree with goddesses like Maat.
Our present society is a shallow one and as such, I can see a person with a Vulture Totem being a bit despised much like the Vulture is. This doesnít mean that they are physically ugly by our standards, just that they donít fit in with the rest of the culture. This would likely not bother a Vulture Totem in the slightest, but it would be the truth regardless. They know that they are different, but they keep on being themselves regardless of societyís impressions of them. Vulture Totems are people that pour themselves into the healing and protection of other people and the environment. They will be champions of efficient energy use, and will be able to think outside the box to attain this. Think on the Vulture being able to see thermal currents and this is apparent. These will be people that give and share selflessly without a care of that being returned. As a result, optimal careers for Vulture Totems can include Doctors, Nurses, Scientists, Environmental engineers, etc. You can see the doctors, especially surgeons. A surgeon digs into a body to bring about healing from disease or decay. A Vulture does pretty much the same thing. You can see scientists especially chemists working for a disease control agency. That sort of thing. The Vulture Totem will foster very close friendships and romantic relationships. After a friend or romantic interest gets over the societal weirdness about the vulture, they will see its inner beauty. From this moment on, the Vulture Totem is loyal and very selfless in its giving to those that are close to it. They will tend to form monogamous relationships and cling to a partner quickly. This sort of style is not for everyone. The Vulture Totem is the sort that would not hurt a fly, yet strive to protect everyone they can. These are the sort of individuals that we need more of in the world.
Written by RavenDreamer