I’ve always been interested in the naming of things, and that interest certainly includes the names of animals. While most colloquial names of things are based solely on the appearance or feeling of what’s being named, what I’m more intrigued by are the scientific names—genus and species. These names represent the very first feelings associated with the thing being named. Sometimes, a novel discovery evokes the feeling of ownership. So many names are simply “re-names,” named after the person who discovered them. There are some, though, that have a deeper meaning, one that gives you a true sense of a story. Some that allow you to picture what exactly someone was thinking when they first saw the animal or bacteria or plant they gave a name to. What does this have to do with birds? (You might be thinking…) Well, one of my favorite names happens to belong to a bird.
Cathartes aura, which could loosely mean “golden purifier,” and also, incidentally, “Turkey Vulture.” I didn’t start with a feeling of reverence for scavengers, but with a name like that, how could you not reconsider? These are the birds we see eating roadkill, carrying smaller dead birds out of our yards, swooping in where no one else dares. They survive on this instinct—to clean meat off of bones. Essentially, to purify. Now why their ruby-stained turkey faces gave rise to “golden” I’m not sure, but I can see how any bird, feathers reflecting only the sun, might seem golden rising into the sky. It’s beautiful to think of things that are traditionally gross, or weird, or turkey-vulture-like, as golden, as purifying. While maybe not everyone will share my sentiment, this National Bird Day I’ll stand by the Turkey Vulture, and the scavengers will scrape out some recognition.