Rooting For the Underdog

If I had a blog, today I would write about my deep compassion for vultures.

October 7- A juvenile vulture sits in the morning sun, warming his wings before flight.

October 7- A juvenile vulture sits in the morning sun, warming his wings before flight.

In keeping with the All Hallows season, today I want to write about a bird that has a truly undeserved bad rap. The bird is the turkey vulture. In mid-America, we call them buzzards or just plain old vultures, but their name is important because world-wide, there are 23 species of vulture, inhabiting every continent but Australia and Antarctica. Admittedly, the vulture was created to fill a rather gruesome niche (i.e. feeding primarily on rotting carcasses), but without them we would be in trouble. Without the vulture, every landscape would be littered with decomposing carnage and disease would run rampant. Not only do vultures do nature’s dirty work, but their stomach acid is strong enough to kill nightmare bacteria such as anthrax, botulism, and cholera, preventing it from entering the environment and infecting otherwise healthy creatures (humans included).

Outbreak prevention aside, turkey vultures are also dedicated parents who mate for life (40-50 years).I witnessed their dedicated parenting skills this morning when I encountered a young vulture standing on the ground, soaking up the morning sun. To conserve energy, vultures lower their body temperatures at night. The downside is: In the morning they have to warm in the sun until they are warm enough to fly. Apparently they young bird I came upon hadn’t quite got the hang of his morning warm-up and continued to idle on the ground long after his parents had taken flight. The juvenile’s concerned parents circled continuously above him until he finally got up the gumption to fly. I admire that kind of dedication in parenting and it made me smile to know that all young creatures struggle on their way to adulthood.

This alone would be enough to earn my admiration, but there’s another reason I like vultures: I always root for the underdog.

Throughout my life, regardless of the situation, I have always been on the side of the social pariah. I was a nerdy kid who didn’t fit in at school (or in any other social setting), so I developed a deep compassion for others who shared my plight. I champion a wide range of causes, some social, most environmental, but my deepest feelings are for the creatures we humans have cast our lot against. In addition to vultures, I support snakes, spiders, a variety of lizards, and any predator given a bad name just for eating meat – a trait, I might add, shared by a two-legged species I know. I rescue earthworms from the sidewalk on hot summer days, guard nests of lizard eggs I find in our sawdust pile, and rescue bats that get trapped in the house. I know I’m a soft-touch, but it makes me feel good to support my fellow outsiders.

So, as we travel the road of autumn towards the festival of All Hallows Eve, let us remember what is fact and what is fiction. A vulture may look sufficiently scary on a tombstone, but he is not an omen of death. The vulture is our protector and sanitizer, working behind the scenes to keep death at bay. The next time you see a vulture at work on the side of the road, call out a hearty “thank you!” and wish him a Happy Halloween.

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