Native American Vulture Tales

To the people of the pre-conquest Americas, the vulture or buzzard was one of the more prevalent animals. It was known to clans across the country. This bird is credited with assisting in some of the more important tasks - including the creation of the land and the efforts to bring fire to the first people.

Although we cannot necessarily draw a straight line between these animal folktales and stories about the Watchers - whose myths were based on vulture shamen - there are certain similarities between the two. In many cases the vulture was one of the first animals to come down from the sky or to come from the old land into the new, much as the Watchers had done. That the vulture helped shape the land and bring light might suggest a similar theme to stories in which the Watchers introduced new technologies to the humans.

The Tohno O'odhan Creation Story
This Papago story tells how buzzard was created during one of the times when the sky touched the earth.

Earth Making
In this Cherokee story, Grandfather Buzzard creates the mountains and valleys with the touch of his wings across the landscape. Along with the other animals, Grandfather Buzzard descended from a land in the sky when there was no more room for them there. It also tells how to get to the underworld.

How the Hopi Indians Reached Their World
In this tale, the vulture is one of the five animals (including spider, swallow, coyote and locust) to help the first Hopi find a way of bringing light to the fourth world, which they had just come to inhabit after failed attempts at survival in the other three. Although coyote ends up finding the light, again vulture is credited with making the mountains with his wings. In this story they also learn about the afterlife, and why they should not fear death.

Grandmother Spider
In this tale, the animals set out to find a source of fire and bring it back to the land of animal and bird people. One of those who goes to fetch fire is vulture, but he is unsuccessful and his head is badly burned in the effort.

The Origin of Some Oraibi Clans
In this Hopi (Oraibi) story, buzzard yet again helps in the search for light in a new world, and is burned. In this case, however, he is partially successful in bringing light into the world.

How Buzzard Got His Clothing
This Seneca story warns of the dangers of vanity. Buzzard is sent to give a message to the Creator, and gets so excited he forgets to be humble. The Creator gives him first pick of all the birds' garments, but keeps tossing the outfits to other birds claiming they are not right for him. Finally, the only one left is an ill-fitting black suit...