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3/31/2005

Buzzards

In Capistrano the swallows come back on cue each year. In Kansas it’s the buzzards! No, they don’t make it exactly on the same day annually, but they do come within a window of a few days. They’ve been here for about a week now.  
 
The experts tell us that the term “buzzard” is not correct. Turkey Vulture is the proper name for the great bird. That’s OK. I call bison buffalo, so I’m used ta being terminally wrong. I think I just gave terminal a new definition. Anyways, our ol’ winged buddy, the Buzzard is one of North America's largest birds of prey. He can reach a length of 32 inches and a wing span of 6 feet. When ya see him ya know exactly what he is with an overall brown-black color and that signature featherless red head. Add a white bill and yellow feet and you have one very unique bird!  
 
Unlike the red-tailed hawk who likes to let you know he’s around, the buzzard is very quiet. Sometimes ya might hear what sounds more like a moan more than any kind of a bird call. I once sneaked up on a nest in a cave high up on a rock faced bluff. The startled mamma buzzard spread those huge wings menacingly and hissed at me like a snake. Very impressive! 
 
The buzzard is often reviled by people because of its lifestyle. Birds are supposed to be something we admire for their beauty. I think it is safe to say that people are envious of the act of flying. But here’s this bird that eats dead things! In the old westerns the buzzard is always the harbinger of death circling overhead jest waiting for the hero to fall to his knees and breath his last. The Indians may have actually had a positive notion of the roll the buzzard plays in the circle of life. After all everything does die sooner or later. 
 
There are a number of rock carvings that the Indians left behind around these parts with huge birds and outspread wings. Sometimes they take on human characteristics as though they are standing upright. A lot of people think they are representations of the sacred Thunderbird. I’m not so sure.  
 
The buzzard has a habit of extending his wings in a very majestic sort of way. In the early morning or following a rain they can be seen “airing out” their wings. Just this past weekend I drove past an abandoned farmhouse. There at the very peak of the roof were two buzzards with their wings spread out not quite touching each other. What a sight! I need to carry a camera! When they pose like that they give the impression that nothing in the world could ever be above them. They are the exact image of the Thunderbird carved hundreds of years ago by the Indians who lived on these prairies. Sacred? I have no idea, but the buzzard certainly left his mark with the people of this land. And he has left his mark with me. I have a piece of sandstone leaning against the wall just to my left. On it I have carved a copy of one of those “Sacred Birds”. Don’t know what it represents but I somehow feel reassured when I look at it as though the presence of this bird in my life confirms that I am truly where I belong, a son of the prairie. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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