• Laurel Contributor

Uff-da, the Magnificent

by Donna Rhodes

The much-maligned Buzzard has a thankless job, but she does it with a certain element of style.

Years ago I visited a rescue facility,the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida. There I met the beautiful and talented Uff-da. Uff-da is a Black Vulture, commonly called a buzzard, and before you go “blech,” let me tell you why I fell in love with her.

I walked into her screened compound. She was with her committee (the term for a group of buzzards). Not knowing me, she lowered her head and charged. There was no intent to snap or give me a wing-whack. She was simply warning me, protecting her caregiver, a human she considered “mama.” Uff-da was wounded and rescued at a young age after being hit by a car, and thus bonded to her person. She followed her around like a puppy. Adorable.

Uff-da got her name from the sound she made, a kind of guttural hissy noise that sounded like “ooff.”

Also, Uff-da sounds like a Scandinavian expression of discontent.

My Uff-da encounter opened my eyes to the magnificence of vultures. They’re one of the few birds of prey that form a social group. They are super smart . . .smarter than a lot of hawks. They learn quickly and respond to commands. They can bond to people. They are a godsend to us. Were it not for the buzzard family, humans and other animals would be exposed to rampant, life-threatening diseases.

There are a lot of myths about vultures. In many countries people shoot them, for they see them as an omen of death, when, in fact, vultures are quite the opposite. They prevent dying by doing clean-up on Road-kill’s Aisle Three. I don’t see anyone else volunteering for that job, yet it has to be done.Vultures are also the butt of jokes. There is a legal building in downtown Orlando that has perfect perching ledges and swooping sides to create thermals tailor-made for launching. Migrating vultures can’t resist. Lawyers and their clients look out their windows and see buzzards gawking back at them, and it becomes a living lawyer joke.

But, hey, buzzards have to make a living, too! If you build a perch, they will come.

So next time you see a buzzard soaring, think of Uff-da. And if you want to know more about birds of prey, contact Laura VonMutius, the center’s Education Manager at auduboncbop@audubon.org (Maitland, Florida) or highlandsaudubonsociety.org on the Plateau.

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