Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 16, 2006)
The valuable vulture
Photo by Rick Tremmel
A pair of black vultures enjoy Chinese food take-out.
Headlines warn:

TORONTO – Heat wave roasts Central Canada – garbage strike adds to Toronto’s woes.

HAMILTON – The strike by garbage workers against trash-haulers turned violent yesterday as two replacement workers were attacked by a group of men.

NEW YORK CITY – 10,000 tons of garbage left on sidewalks due to Teamster strike.

What if Mother Nature went on strike? Who would bring the cleansing rains? What would it be like without the fresh winds, the reshaping of the planet by the oceans waves, the rushing streams carrying debris and the baking sun? What would the Earth do without maggots, beetles, crows and vultures?

Think about the wildlife we see day to day living among us, flying in the skies, scampering up the trees, burrowing into the sandbanks, habitating the seas. Imagine that circle of life to death and day to day refuse brought about by this cycle. Where does it go?

Mother Nature employs her own cleaning staff. And even though the thought of a live being making their living off of the disposal of another’s refuse may sound disgusting to us, where would we be without these valuable services?

We do not honor our co-dependency cycle on our planet. We

arrogantly assume everything we discard disappears. We don’t ask questions for fear of getting our own hands dirty, but take for granted the services we desperately depend upon.

The black vulture is one of nature’s most valuable housekeepers. Native American legends speak of how the black vulture became a scavenger. One version tells how the strong, agile vulture flew to Creator to request feathers for the rest of the winged family so they would be warm.

The journey was long and he became very hungry but was unable to find food. Eventually he stopped and ate from a pile of dead fish, only then did he have the energy to carry on his journey. When he reached Creator, he was told that he had been expected, for Creator had heard the prayers and songs of the wingeds back on earth. Creator granted his wish saying you may try on all the feathers, but only each one once. After trying on all the suits he was left with only one. It was black and much too small, so vulture’s head was left uncovered, but since he had tried on all the rest, he had to settle for this last suit of feathers.

Arriving back to earth he was honored by all the other birds for bringing home the beautiful feathers for each species. In this honoring, each bird offered his dead body to the vulture so the vulture would never go hungry again. And though the diet of the vulture seems repulsive, he proudly flies upon the refreshing, clean winds in bold beauty and bathes in the cleansing waters, for his heart is pure.

The black vulture is fastidious and may spend up to two hours a day preening his feathers. Their unfeathered heads aid in cleanliness and against infection, allowing these birds to stick their heads into a carcass without soiling their feathers. The black vulture is dark gray with light gray head and legs. The undersides of the wing primaries are very light, making it appear as though these outer tips of the wings have whitish patches. Vulture families are loyal to one another, staying together for more than a year.

I.D. tip: The black vulture holds its wings straight out in flight. The Turkey vulture holds its wings in a V pattern.

Honor the Black Vulture for without him our world would not be the same place … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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