“Pernicious neither to corn, fruit tree, nor cattle..”.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine clued me into a news story coming out of Georgia; Vultures Invade Neighborhood. I recommend you give it a read. The link takes you to a story on Huffington Post. The long and short of it being that 500+ vultures decided to plop down to roost in Lee County, Georgia and it’s appears to have irritated their human neighbors. I always find it interesting how upset humans get when animals interrupt their life and activity. At times you would think a pack of velociraptors had arrived from the way people act or maybe skesis from the Dark Crystal were real and had suddenly decided to organize.
My friend clued me into this story because I had waxed poetical to him a week earlier how the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians took great stock in the appearance of a vulture. It had caused me to reevaluate my idea of the creature. It all started in one of my classes last fall when I was curious as to why vultures were such a big deal to such people as, oh, Romulus and the founding of Rome.
Romulus and Remus, brothers in contention for the first seat of Rome, both saw vultures and took it as a positive sign. I was immediately confused by this. Why vultures? It didn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to tell a legend about the founding of a city of such import in the ancient world as Rome why go with vultures? Why not eagles or at least a hawk? I went looking and discovered a large chunk of information and how adoration of the vulture went all the way back to Egypt, Motherhood and the Goddess Mawt. The big statement I found was from Plutarch. He sums it up nicely.
“Hence it is that the Romans, in their divinations from birds, chiefly regard the vulture, though Herodorus Ponticus relates that Hercules was always very joyful when a vulture appeared to him upon any action. For it is a creature that is least hurtful to any, pernicious neither to corn, fruit tree, nor cattle; it preys only on carrion, and never hurts or kills any living thing; and as for birds, it touches not them, though they are dead, as being it’s own species, whereas eagles, owls, and hawks mangle and kill their own fellow creatures…”
Since finding out about all of this I’ve looked at our local turkey vultures in an entirely different light. No wonder my friend wanted me to know when the vultures of Georgia decided to invade Lee County. It was good timing because, oddly enough, 24 hours later, there was a huge flock of vultures circling over my neighborhood in numbers well into the hundreds.
Watching them I realized they were not focused on one area but moving along the ridge, disappearing for a while behind the treeline and then gliding back and doing the same thing in the other direction. I watched them for close to an hour in groups that varied from ten to fifty. As occasional individuals would dip a wing, drop onto a tree branch, ruffle its feathers and settle, I realized they were actually roosting for the night. Driving on an errand the next morning I realized the roosting flock was stretched out over close to two miles of irregular residential woods and the occasional field. I estimated them to be in the several hundreds if not thousands.
I happened to notice a large number of big black clumps in the tops of trees near our neighborhood during the morning commute and upon returning home I took camera in hand to see what I could see. Several hundred had gathered on an eastern facing ridge line near a large open field. As the sun rose they were greeting it with wide open wings, warming them from the damp and chilly air. As the morning sun rose higher, they started to go on the move and they only tolerated my presence within about 100 yards.
Weeks later they are still in the area, moving from one ridge to the other, roosting in groups both large and small. More than one morning I’ve stepped out to see a lonely dark silhouette of a single vulture in the dark bare branches. Yesterday, they were focused on the woods right outside my back porch. What has caused them to suddenly make an appearance in an area they are not normally seen in and in such large numbers? Is it a sign of the apocalypse?
No. What it happens to be is the simple fact there has been numerous land clearings over the past year on our side of town. Vast acreage that once held meadow and wood have been given over to housing lots and cleared in the sake of progress. Most likely, a winter time roost was flattened and our new visitors opted to come into the edge of town while looking for a new roost spot. We really won’t know for sure until next year about this time. Perhaps they are just on the move from one spot to another. They seem to like it here. Actually, they seem to REALLY like it here as yesterday my family was treated to something none of us had ever seen before; turkey vultures mating in the trees behind our apartment.
I’m actually glad to see them hanging out in our neighborhood right now and respect them for who and what they are in our ecosystem. They quietly take care of the business few other creatures care to handle. All over the world, in nearly every culture, they are part of the direct connection in the circuit between death and new life. They are symbolic of resourcefulness, renewal and they facilitate the turning of the Wheel. Once we get over our Western cartoon stereotypes we can begin to see how important and amazing these creatures are in the grand scheme of design.