Down the Rabbit Hole with the Buzzard and the Monkey

In looking up a bit of information today, I went down a rabbit hole and decided to share, or drag you with me, as it were.


There is a folktale that explains why buzzards only eat carcasses of dead animals, as opposed to prey they catch and kill. John O’Neal tells it very well to a group of children in this video but the Reader’s Digest version is this: During a drought, a buzzard takes advantage of animals looking for food by tricking them into riding on his back as he flies, then killing and eating them. A monkey decides to teach the buzzard a lesson, poses as a potential victim then chokes the bird by wrapping his tail around the buzzard’s neck while in flight. As punishment for tricking the other animals, the monkey decrees the buzzard will only ever eat carcasses.

This bit of folklore inspired the 1943 song “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills. Cole reportedly had heard his father, a preacher, tell the story from the pulpit. The song in turn became a call to arms for the Tuskegee airmen of World War II. “Straighten Up and Fly Right” has been covered numerous times since the King Cole Trio first made it a hit.

Lyrics to “Straighten Up and Fly Right” via LyricFind

The buzzard and monkey story was published in the form of a popular children’s book in 1973 titled “The Cool Ride in the Sky”.

Image via Goodreads

Artists continue to interpret the myth to this day.

Art by Sam Julian via Twitter

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