Death-Eater……….Black Vulture Totem

Even the name conjures up squeamishness in some people. For some, the vulture seems gross and others associate it with death. But, in ancient and indigenous cultures it’s just the opposite!

I too misunderstood the vulture until visiting a nature preserve and was surrounded by about 20 Black Vultures. At first I was nervous, thinking they might attack me. After all, they were feeding off a dead rabbit. But no, they must have been at the end of their meal because they were more curious than anything else. It allowed me the chance to study them closely.

They are actually quite beautiful with purple-black feathers and solid black heads. The demarcation line between the feathers and the black skin on the head is very distinct, giving them the illusion of wearing a hood. I think I must have looked just as odd to them as they lined the roof of a building and perched in the trees, cocking their heads down at me.
Even when I walked close to them, they just stared.

(I later learned that a vulture, when threatened, will spit up bits of digested or decayed food! Fortunately, I must not have been very threatening.)

The Greeks thought the vulture to be a descendant of the griffin, the guardian of the mysteries of life and death. In Egypt, it was a vulture feather that the goddess Maat used in the Book of the Dead to weigh against the heart of man (conscience).
They were also noted for the nurturing of their young, so much so that the Priestesses wore robes made of vulture feathers.

In most cultures, there is a relationship between death and the vulture…..hence my name of the Death-Eater. They were thought to be the ones who released the spirit of the dead and assisted in the guidance to Sprit….almost like a Psycho Pomp or in today’s world the hospice worker.

Black Vultures are pretty smart. Unlike the Turkey vulture, their sense of smell is diminished. They will fly higher than the Turkey vulture, watching them for dives to a carcass. Following the Turkey vulture, they will often push the Turkey vulture out of their way to feast on the remains.

It’s been observed that without the vulture, we would have dead animals lying EVERYWHERE and have to use more taxpayers money to clean up road kill. Since the vulture uses strong acids in their stomachs to kill bacteria and disease, they also keep our environment more sanitary.

So next time you see a Black Vulture, remember that they are nature’s “clean-up” crew and give thanks for their efforts!

For years in Florida, a man, Stan Gober, paid homage to the lowly buzzard with a song, dance and costume contest. You can view it on YouTube at:

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