Like a bad remake of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, they showed up suddenly, an ominous line of nine or ten of them just sitting on our fence in the back yard before moving to the ridge of our house. As menacing as they looked, however, the birds are actually some of the most graceful and harmless of any you will find in this part of the world.
They can sail along on air currents and thermal updrafts as high as 5,000 feet, for instance, folding and opening their flight feathers with aerodynamic precision, slightly swerving from side to side as they unfurl their cambered six-foot wingspans. And their uncanny sense of smell can lead them to their next lunch or dinner even while soaring high above whatever may be on the roadside or woodlands menu far below.
Likewise, they have neither the interest nor the physical attributes to pose any threat to people, never mind all those old misleading Western movies that portrayed them just waiting for a hapless fellow in the desert to die of thirst before they swooped in. For they wouldn’t even eat a household pet if it comes to it, much less you or me.
Indeed, the only real defensive mechanism which they possess is the ability to throw up on you. Oddly enough, however, it’s their lack of a voice box, limiting them to low hisses and grunts, which makes them seem more creepy, I think. For if they would just say something, we might not assume the worst of them.
But then we’ve also assumed that they are buzzards. The big black birds that bounce from rooftop to rooftop in our area are not buzzards, however, but actually vultures, more akin to storks than hawks. Whether you call them buzzards or vultures, though, the one thing you probably won’t call them is beautiful. For with their funeral-black feathers and bare-skinned grey heads, the birds that sat on my rooftop are still not exactly heart-warming symbols of the Christmas season.
On the other hand, maybe there’s a reason why two of those black vultures, whom we’ve named Boris and Natasha, seem to come to Christ Church every year to have their offspring in our courtyard. For they’ve figured out that we’re just as harmless to them as they are to us.
Perhaps we should rename them Joseph and Mary, thus. For the parents of Jesus too had to find a safe haven for his birth, in a culture that looked down on them as well. Likewise, their “migration” from Nazareth to Bethlehem could not have been an easy trip, especially given Mary’s pregnancy. But just as a sparrow can’t fall to the ground outside the care of God (Matthew 10.29), He took care of that cast-off couple too, leading them to exactly where the prophets of old had said that the Christ would be born.
Just a FYI, however. If you happen to hear a rustling on your rooftop in the next few days, you might want to check it out. It may not actually be St. Nick quite yet.