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Possumhaw: Social order of buzzards


Shannon Bardwell



"If I were reincarnated, I'd want to come back as a buzzard. Nothing hates him, or envies him, or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything." 


-- William Faulkner 




Who knew there was a pecking order among buzzards? First off, we don't actually have buzzards here in the Prairie; we just call them buzzards. Buzzards live in Europe and Asia, and what we have are vultures called turkey buzzards or just buzzards. But disregarding technical terms, not a day goes by that we don't see a couple of buzzards floating overhead. Their wings range up to 72 inches, and they are hefty in size. They are beautiful in flight but cumbersome on the ground or when landing in trees. The crashing sounds made while settling into limber tree branches don't seem to concern them at all.  


It can be a disconcerting feeling when buzzards swarm and swoop overhead. You want to move around a lot, hoping they aren't thinking you have or are about to expire, because buzzards are looking for carrion -- that is, dead things. The primary buzzard diet consists of carrion, plant matter and insects.  


On one moderately warm day, I watched first one, then another, then 19 buzzards, land on the edge of our small lake. At the water's edge was a carp that had been in the lake for 22 years. The carp was 4 feet long and quite primeval looking. The week before, Sam reported the carp was floating near the bank and appeared to be bleeding. That day we watched as a few crows showed interest; in a couple of hours he swam away. We thought, hoped, he had recovered from whatever ailed him, but it was not to be. We were a bit sad, but it is the way of the world in the Prairie. 


The day was warm so I sat on the back porch observing the behavior of the buzzards. As long as there were less than half-a-dozen there was no bickering, but as the numbers grew, a small number of birds dominated the others. One buzzard would leave the carp, hop, and hold his wings out in a threatening manner, sometimes chasing another buzzard quite a distance into the woods and away from the carp. Such behavior continued, with buzzards coming and going. Visually there was no way to tell why one buzzard was more dominant than another and why some buzzards would eat together but not allow other buzzards to eat with them. After all, they were all just buzzards.  


The following day I was out by the big lake feeding the ducks when I noticed four buzzards near the water's edge. After feeding I walked to the site and found a dead bass. I mentioned it to Sam. He wants to determine what kills the fish. 


Sam took a look and said, "It was George. Remember the bass that stayed under the dock when we fed the bream? He was thin in the gut and big-headed? He never was healthy." 


I remembered George and was saddened. Before the drought George had regularly showed up for the bream feeding. The way of the world in the Prairie.  



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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