What a turkey vulture taught me

We’re zoo people.

On our honeymoon ten years ago, we went to both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park.  Last week on our return trip we spent time at both places again, and laughed at the different things we remembered. For example, my husband remembered the ivy sculpture of an elephant at the entrance, while I remembered feeding lorikeets.feeding lorikeets

Of the two places, we prefer the Safari Park, in part because it’s very cool to see all the animals that won’t kill each other together on one big plain. The tram ride provides ample opportunity for picture-taking, and I appreciate how the operator knew where to direct our attention to make sure we saw all the babies.

We loved the lions–including the six-week old cubs. We laughed at the free-flying bird show not only because it showcased some amazing creatures, but it did so with quirky humour, and we finally stopped even trying to take pictures just so we could enjoy it all.

But here, a week later, it’s the turkey vultures that come to mind most often. Turkey vultures are … well … ugly. I can’t think of another way to say that. They are. Each foot is a scaly claw that would easily cover my hands. Their body shape is chunky and round and kind of klunky looking. And their heads, oh their heads! Bald and weird, it almost seems as though they’ve got a pair of noses coming together to form a beak, though I’d never want to get in the way of it. They are, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. Never mind that they are carrion birds too, and live off dead and dying creatures. Roadkill is their specialty.


And I can’t stop thinking about them.

Here’s why: when we got to Safari Park, we wanted to go on the first tram ride because we thought the animals would be more active in the morning. So we worked our way from one end of the park to the other, and as we neared Lorikeet Landing, we saw eagles circling overhead. Dozens of them. We tried to get a good picture of them, with their big huge wings and the distinctive markings underneath as they soared ever so gracefully above us. We saw them again at lunch, which we shared looking over the other animals, and they were so commanding in such an elegant way. We couldn’t stop watching.

It wasn’t until we got to the bird show that we found out the graceful eagles were actually those ridiculous turkey vultures. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. These hideous looking birds transform into something so captivating when they soar, and it’s almost mind-boggling.


And it makes me give myself a mental kick. How often have I judged something else–or more importantly someONE else based on physical appearance or first impressions? How often have I made such a monumental mistake in judgement?

Probably more often than I like to admit.

It’s not always easy to be authentic. We waste so much time trying to fit into someone else’s box. But when we heed our calling and do what we were made to do, well, there is simply nothing more beautiful than that.

evening birdThe smallness you feel comes from within you.

Your lives aren’t small but you’re living them in a small way.

II Corinthians 6:12 The Message

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