Bound Eagles, Evil Vultures and Cuckoo Horses


© Zhecho Planinski

Vultures and eagles are large and impressive raptors that have a special role in the symbolic lore of local communities worldwide. The authors of the article: "Bound Eagles, Evil Vultures and Cuckoo Horses. Preserving the Bio-Cultural Diversity of Carrion Eating Birds" examine species folk names, everyday aphorisms, place names, local stories, ceremonies and folklore in modern Greece to demonstrate ways local communities conceptualize emblematic raptor species. As populations of these species are reduced or become extinct, local knowledge about them also disappears. On the other hand, conservation campaigns are mainly restricted on vultures’ sanitary services and ecotourism potential, often overlooking intangible values that are more stable and deeply rooted in local culture. Traditional ecological knowledge, local values and perspectives hould be incorporated in reconstructing raptor public awareness profiles by modern conservation science for effective participatory conservation policy for these endangered species worldwide.

Тhe authors collected local bird names from published Greek lists, the unpublished Modern Greek Dialect Notes of the Academy ofAthens, references in village folklore monographs, other sources (e.g., Sakoulis 2012; The return of the Neophron) and field research. The current use of names was verified during interviews with local informants. Recordings of local sayings, personal experiences, beliefs and rituals from the twentieth century to present were based mainly on literature and the archives of the folklore departments of the universities of Ioannina and Athens, the Hellenic Folklore Research Centre of the Academy of Athens, and the Kostas Lazaridis Cultural Foundation, as well as the interviews.

The majority of bird names collected (~60%) are descriptive and refer especially to color, diet and behavior. Black and bearded vultures have the fewest folk names while the Egyptian vulture has the most (22), related with its white color, alimentary habits, seasonal migrations, and metaphors of the bird as a cheese maker, probably because of its habit of frequenting places related to dairy production. Local names also mirror past abundance and distribution of species. The authirs found that the current shrinking range of the Egyptian vulture in mainland Greece is followed by a decline in the use of its local names, particularly outside rural societies (only four local names were recorded in the interviews of 2014).

In most folk tales, vultures and eagles are represented as shepherds who were transformed to birds, usually in moral, religious or magical contexts. The authors also found rites related to the Egyptian vulture as a herald of spring. In Epirus people call Egyptian vultures Cuckoo’s horses believing that they carry lazy cuckoos from Africa on their backs in the spring. The first sight of Egyptian vultures is a good omen regarding good health, success, and productivity in several areas.

Find the whole article here.

Egyptian vultures, aphorisms, names, stories, folklore