How Buzzard got his Feathers:

Last night we had our monthly Longhouse meeting and the telling of legends is always a part of it.


So this time the Sachem shared toe story of Buzzard (Vulture) getting his feathers with us. 

The Haudenosaunee culture is an oral one and only now are some of these stories being written down. Here I am trying my best, to retell this one:


How the Buzzard (Vulture) got his feathers:

Along time ago the Birds had no clothing. They spoke like people, but they were shy and hid from sight. One day they decided to hold a great council.

“We must go to Creator and ask him for clothing,” said Eagle. So it was decided. But who would carry the message?

Many Birds volunteered, but finally they chose Buzzard. He could fly great distances because of his long wings, and he could soar higher than any of the other Birds and so come more easily aaaaal the way upto the sun-place, where Creator lived. All of the Birds burned Tobacco and sent their prayers up to Creator, and then Buzzard set out on his way.

It was a long journey. Buzzard flew and flew and flew. He ate the food he had carried with him and still he was far from the place of Creator. He became hungry, After a while, he was so hungry that he stopped and ate some dead Fish washed up on the shore below him. This Fish were rotten and smelled bad, but his hunger was great, and he did not mind.

He continued on his way, he went higher and higher….

Now he was close to the Place of the Sun, the Creator’s home; It grew fiery hot from the sun, but still he flew up and up. The skin on top of his naked head burned red in the sun’s heat, but at last he came to the place of Creator.

“I have been waiting for you,” Creator said,
“because I have heard the prayers of the Birds. I will give you clothes made of fine feathers to take back.”
Then he showed Buzzard the clothing he had prepared. It was fine indeed. There was a huuuuuge bag full of different feather suits. There were as many colors in the feathers as there are in the Rainbow Snake that arches across the sky after a rain, and the feathers shone so brightly that Buzzard had to turn his eyes away from them.

“Now,” Creator said, “I know how hard it was for you to fly to me. You may have the first choice of all these suits of feathers. Remember, though, you may try on each suit only once. If you do not want it, let it fall down onto Mother Earth for your friends to catch

Buzzard was very pleased. “I must choose the finest feathers,” he said to himself. “Then everyone will see them and always remember it was me, who brought back clothing for my brother and sister Birds.

He tried on a suit of bright blue and white feather with a jaunty cap. “No,” he said, taking it off, “not bright enough.” And so that suit fell down down down and all the way down on Mother Earth it was caught by the Blue Jay, who put it on right away and was VERY pleased.

He tried on another suit of brilliant red and black with a tall crest. “No,” he said, “I do not look good in red.” And so that suit fell down down down and all the way down where it was caught by the Cardinal.

He tried on another suit of gray and black with scarlet vest. Again he was not satisfied, and that go and it went to Robin.

He put on a suit as yellow as the sun with hand some dark markings. “Too much black on this one,” he said, and that suit went to Goldfinch.

Creator patiently watched Buzzard trying on one suit after another. None of them were quite right.

Buzzard, watch out” Creator said. “The bag is getting empty”

buzzard did not listen. He kept trying on suits.
ometimes the feathers were too long. Sometimes they were not long enough. Some were too dark, others too light. None of them seemed to be just right for the messenger of all the Birds.

Finally Buzzard put on a the very last suit of clothes that was on the bottom of the bag. It was scraggly looking with rather scruffy feathers that had no shine at all to them, just dull dark brown. It also was tooooo small for him! Although all of the other clothes had grown larger or smaller to magicly fit him, this last suit of feathers was very tight.

Buzzard pulled and strained. And finally he got it on. But it hardly fit and so he hung his wings in a arched bow, to lessen the strain, moving from leg to leg trying to stretch the outfit just a little more…. His legs and his neck were left bare bare; the red skin of his bald head remained uncovered. 😦

He looked at the suit.

Not fine!

Not fine at all.

The feathers were sooo lack-luster. Buzzard was not pleased.

“This is the worst of all,” he said.

Creator smiled. “Buzzard,” he said, “it is the only one, that is left….

Now it will have to be yours.”

And so to this day you can see Buzzard wearing the suit that he earned for himself. He still eats things long dead because of what he ate on his journey to the place of Creator. And though some make fun of t he way he looks, Buzzard still remembers that he
was the only one who could make that long journey.

Even in his suit of dirty feathers that fits him so badly, even with his head burned scarlet from the heat of the sun, he remembers that he .was chosen to bethe messenger for all the birds. When he circles high in the sky, he is close to Creator. Then, even in
illfitting suit of feathers, he is sooooo proud ..


















8 thoughts on “How Buzzard got his Feathers:

  1. What is it we say here? “Never look a gift horse in the mouth”. I think it’s pretty much the same message. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think that you did both (a) A wonderful job in the writing of the story and (b) A job that is very much worthwhile, Some may say that these stories should remain oral & only ever be handed down by mouth whilst others may feel indifferent as to whether it is written down at all. In Australia where I live, it is a bit of a contentious issue among some groups of indigenous Australians. A friend of mine contributed a number of paintings to “The Oracle of the Dreamtime” which though now out of print, contains an accompanying allegorlcal book of legends for each card each with a valueable spiritual lesson about the meaning of each card.With the amount of the oral/story telling lessons on the virtues of types of conduct etc being replaced by the ‘new way of living’ sadly much of it here is treated as a throw away ‘way’ now. For me, even though I am of celtic ancestory, I do feel it is a shame that these types of stories among many different cultures are disappearing or have completely done so, often with a result for many with indigenous heritage in Australia( as the elders pass) to being left in a limbo, where they feel they do not really belong in either world or otherwise being turned into a political football, that helps no-one from what I hve noticed, Maybe it is none of my business or maybe it is for the long term good of all that people such as yourself around the world are taking th time to bother to do it, ( I do not think mass produced oracles of any sort are just the work of culture vultures, though at least they have been preserved in some way)

    • Oh! Hi Jim!
      Yes, the oral traditions are forced to change – and fast! In recent years many legends of the Longhouse have been written down, simply to preserve them. Then, more recently there are Elders, that tell the stories on youtube, as a way to keep them going. But then they have no control over, where they end up being changed, adapted and re-told, which is, what worries other Faithkeepers…..
      There however are certain traditions that remain strictly oral.
      The ceremonies and rituals of the yearly circle for example….

      By the way; I have the Oracle of the Dreamtime and like it and its book a lot!

  3. In the U.S., “buzzard” is commonly used for the Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture, unless you’re a birdwatcher or naturalist. “Buzzard” in England and Europe means a Buteo (family of large, heavy-bodied hawks such as the American red-tail etc.).

    In Mexico and Spanish-speaking U.S., there is a similar tradition: “buitre” (vulture) is not used as often as “zopilote” (slang term like “buzzard”, but originally from Nahuatl so it’s derived from a native word rather than a European one).

    If you see a Turkey Vulture up very close (dead or captive), the reason for the scientific name becomes obvious. Cathartes aura (“Golden Purifier”) refers to the slightly iridescent golden sheen on the feathers.

  4. I actually think that vultures are beautiful birds. Or maybe handsome is the better term.
    Either way, thank you for sharing the story, Mi-Shell!

  5. Yes indeed! 🙂
    I have quite a number of Vulture feathers and they are very beautiful. I have, over the years also given / send away large Vulture wing feathers to fellow owners of the Ironwing Tarot deck.
    I gave one such feather to a client of mine to help her clear out her large estate and decide, which things to take with her on a move to a new home.

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