I make no bones about it; I am a lover of the predators: the eagles, the hawks, the falcons. These soaring birds are rulers of the Earth’s heavens. Such magnificent creatures do not just fly, they soar, hunting, always hunting for the fearful creatures these fearsome birds will kill and devour.
Little songbirds, while pretty and often gaily colored, can fly, yes, but they cannot soar high into the sky, they cannot dominate their world. They live lives of terror; flitting from here to there, to mate and to not to get eaten. The energy they expend flying is overwhelming, consistently flap, flap, flapping
In Cape May, New Jersey, my wife, the Beautiful AP and two friends of ours, Martine and Tom, saw hawks of some kind flying over the trees. There had to be at least a dozen of them; one bird soaring after another.
“Oh, man, look at those,” I pointed.
Four pairs of binoculars pointed heavenward to catch these magnificent birds in flight. Ohhhh and they were dominating the sky, watching for prey. Then one flew into the parking lot of the Cape May Preserve, where we were about to get into the car to go to Sunset Beach. This creature hovered over our heads, maybe 10 feet above us.
“My God,” I exclaimed. “What a hawk!” I had no idea what kind of hawk this bird was but nevertheless it was a marvel.
“That’s not a hawk,” said a young woman about to get into her car.
“What is it then?” I asked. “A small eagle?”
“That? Those?” she pointed upward. I nodded. She laughed, “They are Turkey Vultures.”
What the hell? “Huh?” I questioned. “They are hunting though, right?”
“Nah, they don’t hunt. They eat the carrion they find on the roads and in the fields.” She looked closely at my face. “If you feel any better, they don’t eat anything that is putrefying.”
TurkeyVultures? Soaring Turkey Vultures? My world was being turned upside down.
The word turkey is not an appellation signifying supremacy. In the schoolyards of Brooklyn, the borough where I grew up, calling someone a turkey (“Hey, turkeeee!”) is a sign of disrespect.
And the word vulture? Unpleasant at best; totally disgusting at worst. They look it too. Vultures look like what vultures should look like; disgusting. Except these birds didn’t exactly look like vultures until you looked at their faces – those faces were not hunters’ faces; they were the faces of the avian zombie horde.
Before I knew I was watching a turkey vulture, I saw a majestic predator governing the sky. Once I heard its name, I saw a derelict scavenger searching for an opportunistic meal. It’s the name that makes a difference. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Shakespeare. As usual, Shakespeare got it right because he knew our species so very well.
[Read Frank’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available at Amazon.com, kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]