I want to tell you the story of the greatest race I was ever a part of.
A race that solidified my devotion and respect for one of our land’s most amazing birds.
Sometime in my early teen years my parents took us on a trip to a park that was having a wild bird demonstration. We got to see owls, hawks and even an eagle. I’ve always enjoyed this rare glimpse at birds of prey and was all pumped when they brought out a bird I didn’t really like….at first.
The Turkey Vulture.
He was a big one, with beautiful gleaming black feathers. When his wings expanded I imagined he could block out the sun while in flight. His head was fleshy and pink and barren of feathers. His large beak seemed curled into a smile as he considered the audience with ancient eyes. I was struck immediately by how perfectly gorgeous he was.
Not a normal reaction to Turkey Vultures, I know.
But I loved him. When the handler asked if we would like to see him in flight I responded most emphatically and was then chosen to race beside him.
They wanted to show just how fast he could fly – as they had with the other birds – but in comparison to a human running.
I nervously waited beside the handler, the Vulture staring down at me. I wasn’t afraid of him at all – although close up his size was a bit intimidating.
They counted to three and gave me a head start. I was to run across the field as fast as my feet could carry me. So I did.
Behind me I could hear cheers and shouting as wings thundered in the air. Mr Vulture was in flight, gliding effortlessly and closing the gap between us.
Then he did something no one expected.
When he reached me he dropped down to the ground and ran alongside me, his wings outstretched for balance. He’d make a squawk every now and again and look at me as we ran together. I had dropped my pace a bit so we were side by side.
It was one of the most unique and wonderful experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it, or forget the beautiful bird that refused to fly ahead or behind me – but preferred to be at my side.
To this day I’ve always looked in the skies for signs of Turkey Vultures. Whenever I see roadkill I look around hoping to catch just a tiny glimpse. I bought a necklace with a turkey vulture on it to wear.
They are unique and special birds – and face a myriad of dangers. International Vulture Awareness Day hopes to show people ways they can help.
So everyone else can keep their ravens and robins, their parrots and their doves. For me, my heart will forever be captivated by the Turkey Vulture.