Kettle of Vultures, Cathartes aura

by Rachel Creager Ireland

A group of turkey vultures near Burns, Kansas

A group of turkey vultures near Burns, Kansas

In mid-March I was in Hot Springs, Arkansas briefly, and I saw the first vultures of the year. I pulled off a busy highway to get a look, and they were lazily circling like any turkey vulture would on an ordinary day, though their overall concentration seemed a bit high. But it was late in the day, the typical time for turkey vultures to settle down to roost, and they often converge in favorable places. I concluded that they weren’t just arriving in northern Arkansas, but had arrived there before I did. By the time I got home, they were here too.

But today I took a drive down from Strong City to El Dorado. (Dorado rhymes with tornado, for you non-Kansans.) Just south of Burns I saw a kettle of vultures, and being the Cathartophile that I am, I stopped for pictures;  as I was shooting, another kettle soared on over my head, like the previous one, circling to the north. In the photo above, I count around eighty. That looks like migration behavior, not daily scavenging. It’s three weeks later than I first saw them; however, some vultures migrate thousands of miles, through the Central American isthmus and into South America. We can excuse some of them for being a little late coming back this way.

It was a perfect day for soaring. Looking to the south for any more, I saw a line of billowing clouds on the horizon. Vultures are inefficient at flying, but masters at soaring. A weather front creates ideal updrafts for them to ride.

Turkey vulture has long been important to me, and to see so many in their element thrills me beyond words. Whenever I feel a deep affinity with another creature, I look to its symbolism for messages it might have for me. Ted Andrews says much about vultures. He emphasizes the  importance of action over appearance or words. This is accompanied by an ability to use higher vision to access natural forces. Much can be accomplished with minimal effort. Vulture symbolizes death/rebirth and purification, though it may take three months for the process to be completed. “It [is] a promise that the suffering of the immediate [is] temporary and necessary for a higher purpose [is] at work, even if not understood at the time.”

Let it be so.