Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Q&A Corner

Good afternoon! A reader of this blog asked a follow-up question to last week's Q&A (the question was about pseudonyms for birds). She asked if I could please explain the use of the word "buzzard". Absolutely!

Buzzard is a common word that is used two different ways. The different uses are not right or wrong, just different, but they can cause some confusion:

Common Buzzard

  • Buzzard - Old World:   In birding terms, everything east of the Atlantic Ocean is considered the Old World, while the Americas are the New World*. And in the Old World, especially Europe, the word buzzard means hawk. More specifically, it refers to broad-winged hawks, or buteos. Even more specifically, it refers to the Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo. In American terms, it's like a causal observer glancing up in the sky, seeing a broad-winged raptor soaring around and saying to her friend, "Hey, a hawk!" and the friend replying, "What kind of hawk? A Red-Tailed Hawk?", except they would say, "Hey, a buzzard!" and the friend would reply, "What kind of buzzard? A Common Buzzard?"   

      Turkey Vulture, sometimes called a buzzard'
    • Buzzard - New World:  Here in the U.S. 'buzzard' has a different meaning altogether. When we say buzzard, we mean vulture. Since the only two  vultures we have flying around our skies are the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture, that's usually what is meant by buzzard. Also, buzzard is sometimes used as a derogatory term for a Raptor, like, "Look at that buzzard on that telephone pole, just waiting to eat my chickens!"  

    • Buzzard - not Raptor related:  Then there's the colloquial use of  buzzard to describe someone contemptible or bloodthirsty. I'm sure that has its roots in the [undeserved] bad reputation of vultures. In a sentence, you could say, "That old buzzard behind the front desk is just trying to ruin my day!" 

    An amusing exercise to see how commonly the word 'buzzard' is used in its various forms is to do a Google image search for 'buzzard'. You'll see an interesting mix of hawks, vultures, cartoon vultures, and one guy with blood on his face who was obviously on the receiving end of some talons. 

    Thanks for the question! Anyone who wants me to answer a Raptor-related or completely non-Raptor-related question, just send an email to "talons of doom (one word) @ gmail . com"

    *Please note that Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the South Pacific are apparently world-less. 

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