What do Vultures Symbolize?

Vultures are scavenging birds that will feed on dead animals. These birds will rarely attack healthy animals and other creatures, although they’ll attack the sick and the weak. These behaviors make vultures a symbol of death, resourcefulness, awareness, and even rebirth (in some Native American cultures).

The vulture symbolism is also instructing you to stay patient and wait for your opportunity, just like vultures do when they’re waiting for their food patiently. However, vultures are also, perhaps even surprisingly, loyal and protective towards their peers and their family.

On a deeper level, vultures represent restoration as they seek to bring balance to their habitat when they feed on dead animals. Vultures are interesting animals that have some unique behaviors – one of them is welcoming the day with open wings, which symbolizes renewal.

> This article is from our A-Z series on bird symbolism.

The Symbolism of Vultures

These birds are highly symbolic, and they represent a very popular figure in various cultures, especially Native Americans. Let’s observe the most common meanings of vultures and the reasoning behind them.

1. Death

The first symbolism of vultures is death because this is normally one of the first things we associate these birds with. They’re scavenging animals, meaning they’ll feed on the bodies of dead animals. They’ll also actively hunt weak or hurt animals that can’t defend themselves.

So for those animals, vultures are the bringers of death, but perhaps even the bringers of their salvation. Especially for some Native American tribes, vultures mostly represent negative things – one of them is death. They view this animal as unclean.

See also: dead bird symbolism.

2. Resourcefulness and Opportunity

Even though Native Americans didn’t like their scavenging character, you simply can’t acknowledge the fact that vultures need to be resourceful in order to survive. They’re constantly on the prowl for new opportunities, as they use their strong senses to find dead bodies and opportunities for prey.

To survive, vultures require a great deal of patience, resourcefulness, and even focus. Regardless of what you think about them, this is an admirable trait that would come very welcome to many people today. That’s why vultures as spirit animals represent resourcefulness and can serve you well in this regard.

3. Awareness

To find their opportunities, vultures require a great deal of awareness. They’re constantly using their senses not only to sense new opportunities but also to sense potential dangers around them.

When they’re threatened as they’re scavenging on dead bodies, they’ll promptly retreat to a safe area and observe their surroundings from there. This awareness allows vultures to survive even when there are a lot of other predators out there. They’re certainly not the only creatures feeding on dead animals, which is why they have to be constantly cautious.

4. Patience

In order to get a hold of dead bodies and to get food, vultures need to be extremely patient. They want to be the first animal to have access to food, which is not easy. This tends to be quite competitive, especially when there are other creatures about.

They’ll wait patiently but they’re also not afraid to fight if push comes to shove. That’s why vultures often scare other potential predators away, and also thanks to the imposing frame they create with their wings.

As a spirit animal, the vulture encourages you to be patient and wait for your opportunity in your life – which might be just around the corner.

5. Loyalty and Protectiveness

Despite the negative image these animals have thanks to their scavenging behavior, they’re quite defensive and loyal towards their family members and counterparts. They’ll do everything they can in order to protect them.

When other birds and vultures compete for the same piece of food, they can also get quite aggressive, although they’re able to scare away their potential competitors with their protective behavior. And they’ll do everything they can to protect their family, and they’ll remain loyal for almost their entire life.

Loyalty is also seen in the meanings associated with geese.

6. Greed

Historically, vultures are one of the most maligned creatures in the world. Even from the times of Leviticus, who classified vultures as unclean. He also called them creatures that should be held in abomination by the children of Israel.

Even Charles Darwin called vultures disgusting and appalling, thanks to their “ghastly” appearance and greedy behavior. And their competitive nature only supports their greedy behavior, which is why they’re often perceived as one of the greediest animals in the world.

But perhaps this symbolism is a bit unfair towards these animals. Firstly, they need to ensure they survive and that they’re able to provide for their family. And secondly, but also more importantly, they perform an important act of cleaning up the nature of dead bodies.

7. Restoration

As already mentioned, vultures actually play quite an important role in their habitat. In the Serengeti ecosystem alone, they’re responsible for cleaning up the dead bodies. They can eat up to two pounds of meat in just a minute! That’s quite a lot, which supports the notion that they’re greedy animals.

However, this behavior plays a much more important role in the habitat than one might think. They clean up the carcasses, so they make sure the habitat is free of any potentially stinking, rotting carcasses.

But perhaps more importantly, they make sure there are no insect infestations that might happen due to these carcasses rotting. And these insects could potentially cause big problems for the rest of the habitat. Vultures play quite an important role in the restoration of the habitat.

8. Horror

This is another potentially negative meaning of vultures, but one that has been widely used in the movie industry. Because of their appearance and their seemingly insatiable hunger, vultures have become a symbol of horror, especially for film-makers.

One of the most famous horror movies with vultures at the center is called The Vulture, which is one of the older horror movies (1967). In it, the main protagonist unlocks an ancient curse that causes him to become a vulture. It’s perhaps not a very well known movie, but certainly one that shows the vulture in its horror-like appearance.

Perhaps it’s the appearance of the vulture that causes us to think of it as a horror-inducing animal. Maybe it’s its greedy behavior and their ability to consume entire carcasses. In truth, these animals will very rarely attack living animals on their own, and they’re actually pretty harmless towards other animals – unless they feel threatened.

Vulture Symbolism in Native American Cultures

Native Americans, like the Hollywood movie industry, perceived vultures with quite a lot of negativity. To them, the vulture represents the notion of death and is often seen as an unclean animal.

This is interesting because Native Americans liked to live in close contact with nature and often found inspiration from other creatures in their habitat. But the vulture was perhaps one of the rare animals that caused them to have negative feelings.

They also viewed these animals as unclean, just like Leviticus did centuries ago. They thought they represented the dirty part of nature, although these animals are actually beneficial for their habitat as they consume meat from carcasses. Although for Native Americans, vultures represented an unpleasant opponent for food.

The Vulture as a Spirit Animal

The vulture as a spirit animal has some surprising meanings, although this is not a very common spirit animal to have – nonetheless, there is some inspiration to draw from it.

Firstly, vulture as your spirit animal encourages you to be patient and wait for your opportunity. Just like vultures do when they look for food, you should remain diligent in your pursuit but also remain patient when you need to be.

Secondly, another lesson you can learn from the vulture as your spirit animal is to conserve your energy and use it efficiently. These animals will rarely attack on their own, and they take up a defensive stance when needed. Although they’ll be quick to pounce when they believe it’s worth expending the energy to achieve a goal.

Lastly, they also teach you to be protective and defensive when it comes to your family and friends, just as they are when they’re threatened.

Vultures in Dreams

What does a vulture represent in dreams?

  • If you see a vulture in your dreams, then it acts as a warning sign of something in your life that needs changing. Perhaps you need to rethink one of your relationships, or perhaps your work life.
  • Seeing a vulture in dreams also represents that you need to be patient in your life to achieve what you’re currently looking to achieve.
  • If you see a vulture flying in your dreams, it’s normally a bad sign of something to come, or perhaps it acts as a warning to you.
  • Seeing a vulture land represents to you that you need to act on something in your life as quickly as possible. This is typically one of the important decisions in your life.

Final Thoughts

vulture symbolismVulture symbolism is closely tied to the nature of vultures. Some meanings are quite negative, although vultures also carry some interesting symbolic meanings. They’re beneficial and bring balance to their habitat, although they’re often seen as a symbol of greed and even death.

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