Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Befuddled by Buzzards
I thought I was seeing things. Were those buzzards on the fence posts? Or some kind of puppet or stuffed animal toy someone had placed there as a prank?
Or, even worse, had someone shot some buzzards and mounted them on the posts as a warning to...who? for what?
I was in Gilmer County. The rain had just stopped and a slight mist was rising, making the sight of the birds just a little surreal. I turned around and drove back for a closer look. Some things are worth taking the time to explore.
This is what I saw when I returned to the place where the buzzards were roosting.
They stayed in this position for some time, allowing me to focus my camera, find a good angle and just generally stare at them. It was as if they were posing for me. One would fly off and another would take its place, wings outspread.
I watched them for several minutes. Maybe they were trying to look like eagles. I hated to tell them, but they're a little too redneck for that!
I left no wiser than I had been when I arrived, but my mind had something new to mull over for several miles. I think the buzzards might have been either a) hot and trying to cool off by spreading their wings, or b) trying to dry out after the rain.
If you've ever seen buzzards doing this, I'd be interested in hearing your explanation for their behavior. All I have at the moment are the workings of my fertile (or feeble, depending) mind.
The buzzards reminded me of this folktale from Burma:
The King of the Birds
Long ago the vulture was just an ordinary bird. His feathers were neither splendid or ugly--just ordinary. I'm sorry to tell you that vulture was also of ordinary intelligence--not too smart and actually rather stupid.
One day as the buzzard sat on a fencepost he looked down at himself and saw a feather drop to the ground. Another fell. And another.
"Oh my!" cried the vulture. I'm losing my feathers! Friends, help me!"
The other birds gathered around and looked.
"That's nothing," the chicken assured the vulture. "You're just moulting. All birds lose their feathers so they can grow new ones. That is what is happening to you. It's nothing to worry about."
"Easy for you to say!" said the vulture. "I'm the one going bald. I'll look ugly." He looked worriedly as more feathers fell to the ground. "This is terrible, terrible."
The vulture worried so much that he forgot to eat or drink. soon he was very thin and looked ill.
"Good grief!" said the blue jay. "You're worrying yourself into an early grave." The birds talked together and felt so sorry for the vulture that they came up with a plan to help him.
"Look, vulture. You can have one of my feathers." The blue jay plucked out a blue feather and stuck it into vulture's thinning feathers. One by one the other birds each gave vulture a feather. The robin gave an orange one from his breast; the goldfinch a bright yellow one, the cardinal a beautiful red one and so on.
"Wow! Look at me! I'm beautiful!" Vulture was so excited about his fantastic new plumage that he began to brag to anyone who would listen.
"Am I not the most beautiful of all the birds? Only look at me. I'm more beautiful than a rainbow." Vulture soon forgot how he had gotten his bright-colored feathers and did nothing but strut around boasting of his own beauty all day.
"Since I am now so handsome, I think that I must be the King of the Birds! All of you must bow down to me and call me Your Majesty!"
The birds had had enough. Quickly they took back all of the feathers they had given to vulture. They were so angry they also pecked off all of the vulture's own feathers! He looked wrinkled, bald and ugly when the birds were finished.
Those birds did such a good job that to this day the feathers on the vulture's head have never grown back. His old bald head is exposed to the sun every day, and burns redder and redder.
Or perhaps that red color comes from his embarrassment at remembering how once he thought he was the King of the Birds.
You can find another version of this story at Pitt's etext site for public domain literature.