Pity the poor vulture. As a carrion eater, he has suffered from an image problem throughout his existence.
His countenance is not particularly attractive, and he is naturally associated with unpleasant matters such as death, decay and road kill.
In the visual arts, vultures are mostly depicted as circling around some poor lost prospector expiring in a Western desert. In the written word, vulture is usually reserved as a name for the bad boys of American capitalism.
But the vulture deserves our appreciation as a useful creature. According to a report from Bo Petersen on Monday, vulture numbers have declined in Asia and Africa as a result of ingesting poisons consumed by the animals on which they dine.
In the U.S., however, their biggest risk is eating on the road.
The Center for Birds of Prey has recognized local vultures with an occasional meal of meat scraps at a so-called vulture restaurant at its Awendaw headquarters. The scraps otherwise would go into the garbage, and the vultures enjoy what they consider tasty morsels. It underscores their service for cleanup in the wild.
And in doing so, the center gives the vulture the respect it deserves, despite his physical aspect and associations. Incidentally, when vultures feed, it’s known as a “wake.”
The vulture’s makeover could further be advanced with a nod to Hollywood publicists who recognized that Cary Grant has a better ring than Archibald Leach, and that Judy Garland sounds so much better than Frances Ethel Gumm.
Why not call the vulture a “condor,” as Californian and Andean branches of the vulture family are known?
Or even “buzzard,” slightly reconfigured.
Pronounced bu-zhard (accent on the second syllable), the word has a languid, exotic sound, in keeping with the effortless, almost stately flight of these sadly underrated raptors.