On my drive into the office last Monday, I saw one of my favorite misunderstood native creatures. It was the first thing in the morning, and a large brown-black bird was standing on the roadside with enormous, outstretched wings. It looked like a white-tailed deer had been struck by a car the night before, as its lifeless body lay on the road’s shoulder. I slowed as I passed, and the bird’s featherless, leathery red head followed me as I rolled by.
I knew then it was a turkey vulture, which colloquially is known as a buzzard. The word ‘vulture’ probably comes from the Latin vellere, which means ‘to pluck’ or ‘to tear.’ The scientific name for turkey vulture is more pleasantly poetic. Cathartes aura means “golden purifier.”