Often associated with death, decay, and darkness, the buzzard is actually a common name for several different types of birds of prey, including many members of the Buteo genus. Often connected with vultures, the name “buzzard” is actually attached to quite a few hawks as well. In any case, the word the buzzard often conjures images of carrion picked clean by circling scavengers, of death itself and the creatures which dwell alongside it. Scavengers, though, are extremely important animals whose role in earth’s ecosystems are indispensable. (1)
The negative reputation of the buzzard, I think, is not brought on by a righteous disdain for scavenging behaviors, but by a misplaced but understandable fear of the unknown. Buzzards, or at least the birds which fall under this name and actually engage in scavenging behaviors, remind us that every single organism on this earth must one day face the great unknown and in doing so return its body to earth’s ecosystems. The buzzard, then, is a symbol of fear, death, and futility, but also of rebirth, balance, renewal, and rejuvenation. As we face our fears, it becomes easier to appreciate and to feel gratitude towards these majestic and resourceful birds.
Buzzard Symbolism and Meaning
Depending upon the specific bird which is being referred to by the term “buzzard,” the buzzard can have a wide range of meanings. The Hawaiian Hawk, for example, belongs to the Buteo genus and is sometimes called a “buzzard.” In Hawaiian culture, this bird is associated with royalty and sanctity. The Hawaiian Hawk is not generally associated with death, carrion, or scavenging. (2)
While many “buzzards” are actually hawks and unlikely to be categorized as vulturine, the Turkey Vulture is perhaps the most likely animal that one might picture when picturing a “buzzard” in North America. Turkey Vultures are the consummate vulture. With bald red heads, large black bodies, and a diet that largely consists of deceased animals, the Turkey Vulture is the circling scavenger which the “buzzard” name calls to mind. Where this vulture is concerned, a buzzard may represent resourcefulness, opportunity, decay, death, fear, or cunning. (3)
Because so few buzzards are actually the scavenging vultures of one’s imagination, the buzzard may represent the feeling of being misunderstood or mischaracterized. Buteo genus hawks often represent more majestic concepts like nobility, strength, protection, versatility, and vision.
Buzzard Native American Symbolism
Native American storytelling traditions and general symbolism feature the buzzard heavily. The buzzard, in this specific case, can usually be understood to be the Turkey Vulture. In Native American cultures, the buzzard is often regarded as a trouble-making character who brings death and bad fortune with it. In many stories, the buzzard is defeated by its own haughtiness and humbled by the forces of nature. Despite having a generally negative reputation, most Native American cultures regard the buzzard with some measure of due respect. Tribal dance traditions include buzzards in some regions and some tribes even have the buzzard as a clan animal. (4)
Buzzard Christianity Symbolism
In Christian symbolism, buzzards are generally associated with death, decay, and sin. Hawks, however, like the buzzards of the Buteo genus, are often connected with divine wisdom and the “high road.” This is not due to a particular biblical story, but believers often draw wisdom from nature outside of the Bible.
Buzzard Celtic Symbolism
The hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes from the Mabinogi appears as a bird of prey in the Mabinogi tale “Math fab Mathonwy.” Lleu is a legendary hero who accomplishes many feats but is nearly destroyed when his wife betrays him. When this happens, Lleu flies to the land of the dead in the form of a hawk and begins to rot in a tree. His friend Gwydion the magician finds him and brings him back to the land of the living. Based on this story, hawks and buzzards could be equally connected with heroism and betrayal, rot, and the land of the dead. (5)
Buzzard in Dreams
Dreaming of a buzzard is usually a sign of discomfort or unrest in a person’s mind. Buzzard dreams often indicate a fear that one needs to address in order to move forward and be content. Dreaming of a buzzard may indicate something looming over one’s shoulder. While such a dream might feel like an alarming omen, consider whether your own fear of the unknown is the true villain at play.
Dreaming of a buzzard may also signal a need or desire to repurpose or recycle one’s resources. Nobody likes to be wasteful. Whether this applies to your efforts towards a forgotten goal or your literal material resources, look for ways of bringing the old into the new and making good use of the things that you have.
Buzzard Encounters and Omens
Seeing a buzzard may seem like an obvious bad omen. And certainly a buzzard encounter may act as a “memento mori” reminding us that death cannot be avoided. Often, though, a buzzard encounter can signify surprisingly positive things. For instance, a buzzard encounter may simply indicate that a chapter of one’s life can be expected to close soon and that a new chapter is set to begin. The buzzard encounter can mean that new opportunities for growth and a fresh start are close at hand.
Furthermore, the role of the buzzard in some ecosystems is to return dead flesh to the earth and repurpose the resources which the deceased animal can no longer use. Thus, the buzzard can represent rebirth, balance, and the natural cycles of this incredible planet.
Buzzard in Mythology & Folklore
Folklore surrounding “buzzards” in the form of hawks is abundant and widespread. Surprisingly few traditions specifically name buzzards, but many of the hawks in these stories belong to the Buteo genus or other raptor groups which are referred to as “buzzards.” In the case of Native American myths, though, the buzzard is a common character who is understood to refer to the Turkey Vulture.
Native American Mythology:
One Iroquois legend connects the buzzard with the story of how all birds gained their feathers. In this story, which explains how the buzzard, in this case the Turkey Vulture, came to have all of its recognizable traits. The story begins long ago before any birds had their lovely plumage. The birds were naked and shy and longed for clothes. One day, the birds of the world all gathered and decided to send an ambassador to beg the creator for clothes. After much deliberation, the birds placed their hopes and prayers with the buzzard. (6)
The buzzard would have to brave a difficult journey up into the sky to meet the creator. When the buzzard set out, he quickly grew hungry and ate all of the food that he had packed for his journey. So, out of desperation, he scooped up some fish carcasses and ate them too. When he arrived at the place of the creator, the buzzard explained their predicament and begged the creator to clothe the birds. The creator agreed and told the buzzard that he could have the first choice of the clothes as a reward for making the long journey. The buzzard was delighted and determined to choose fine clothes which would remind everyone of his feat. The creator warned him that he could only try each set of feathers on one time before deciding. First the buzzard tried a suit of blue feathers, but they were not to his liking and the creator gave them to the jay instead. Next the buzzard tried a suit of red and black, but he was sure something more splendid awaited so it was given to the cardinal. (7)
All day long buzzard tried and rejected each outfit until he finally came to the last one. This suit was small and black and was too short to cover his legs and his head. When the buzzard tried to reject it, though, the creator told him that there were no other options left. Thus, the buzzard came to be the bird whose head is exposed and who continues to eat carcasses. Still, all the birds remember that it was thanks to the buzzard that they received their plumage. (8)
In Egyptian mythology, vultures and buzzards are among the many birds of prey which are associated with the pantheon of gods. Denoting royalty in many cases, the Egyptian Vulture is one of the symbols of the queen goddess Isis. Furthermore, the protector goddess of Upper Egypt was Nekhbet, the goddess of vultures. (9)
Egyptian mythology revolves around death and the land of the dead. The Egyptian “Book of the Dead” is the source for much of our understanding of the Egyptian afterlife. Because death was such an important, and even sacred, concept for ancient Egyptians, the buzzard should be understood as connected with this process, and thus holy and sacred. (10)
In Greek myth, the god Zeus transformed one of his favorite humans into a buzzard to protect him from a grisly death. Munichus was a king and a seer who, along with his wife and their three sons and one daughter, were favored by Zeus for their righteous ways. One day the family was attacked by raiders who outnumbered and overwhelmed them. Out of sympathy for the family’s plight, Zeus turned each one of them into birds. Munichus became a buzzard and escaped the bloodthirsty raiders. (11)
Buzzard Spirit Animal
If the buzzard is your spirit animal then you are likely a resourceful person who has a lot of empathy but may struggle communicating with others. The buzzard spirit animal is often drawn to the things which most people reject. These are the types of people who will own tarantulas as pets and wonder why people are so afraid of them.
While their interests might seem macabre, the buzzard spirit animal is not driven by a desire to shock others but by a sense of kinship and fascination with things that feel misunderstood. The buzzard spirit animal does not easily connect with others but is usually kind. People with this spirit animal are often lonely until they find the people who truly “get” them.
Buzzard Totem Animal
The buzzard totem animal is connected with transformation. Capable of turning the most unwanted materials on earth into valuable energy, the buzzard is both humble and industrious. People with the buzzard as their totem animal have a knack for making lemonade from lemons.
This means that one of the major traits of the buzzard totem animal is creativity. Never one to suffer from a lack of vision, people with the buzzard totem animal can manage to find worth in just about anything. They are excellent at turning tough situations around and tend to be very optimistic at heart.
Buzzard Power Animal
The buzzard power animal is connected with foresight. Old superstitions often refer to vultures and buzzards circling an area long before any humans could predict that someone may die there. While this might seem grim, it demonstrates the ability of the buzzard power animal to intuit and sense the flow of events. People with the buzzard power animal may experience premonitions, however more often than not their predictions are simply born out of wisdom and skillful pattern recognition.
Buzzard Tattoo Meaning
A buzzard tattoo might be chosen to represent overcoming one’s fear. This is especially true when the fear in question is death. Similarly, a buzzard tattoo might represent the passage of time.
One who feels misunderstood, or feels a kinship with the maligned creatures whom most people consider macabre, might choose to represent this with a buzzard tattoo.
A person who is passionate about recycling and resourcefulness may also represent this with a buzzard tattoo.
Buzzards are creatures who are subject to a great deal of confusion. For one thing, there is no exact answer for what a buzzard is. Ask a cowboy and he’ll likely describe one of North America’s Turkey Vultures. Ask somebody in Europe and they may gesture towards the very same bird which is called the Rough-legged Hawk in the United States. Sprinkled throughout all of these layers of confusion there is a sense that the buzzard is an unclean animal. This is unfair. In the cases where buzzards actually are scavengers, they are only filling an extremely necessary ecological role, without which the earth’s landscape might be piled with decay. It would be wise, I think, to replace as much of our discomfort as possible with gratitude. Thank you buzzards, for all the work you do!