Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Belled Buzzards

Belled buzzards

Ever heard stories about a buzzard that flew around wearing a bell? Here’s an old newspaper article detailing one such instance:

Belled buzzard sashed buzzard

Most of the sightings or ‘hearings’ caused folks to believe the belled buzzards foretold death. One legend tells the story of a belled buzzard harassing a man after he killed his wife. Finally the man could take no more of the belled buzzard’s judgement and turned himself in for her murder.

As I was researching the subject I found this explanation from Arkansas:

The link details a correspondence between folks discussing the phenomenon of the belled buzzards seen in Arkansas. The lady tells of her brothers bringing home a couple of buzzards to keep as pets. Their mother nixed the idea and made them let the buzzards go. Before turning them loose the boys tied bells on their necks. Makes me wonder if all the other belled buzzard sightings were the result of would be pets gone awry.

My first introduction to belled buzzards came from Gary Carden’s book Belled Buzzards, Hucksters, and Grieving Specters: Appalachian Tales: Strange, True & Legendary. 

Carden notes that the belled buzzards primarily foretold the death of those who had achieved great wealth and power. No ringing buzzard bells for folks like you and me. Carden also provides the last recorded sighting of a belled buzzard:

“The last recorded sighting of death’s messenger was on a Friday evening in Leicester, NC, August 13, 1926. The witness, a farmer named Ed Rhymer was quoted as saying, “At first, I thought my cows was in the corn again.” Rhymer went out to take a look and saw the great bird flying slowly up the valley. Rhymer listened to the fading dirge of the bell and wondered about its destination. Apparently Rhymer was not the least apprehensive about his own fate. Several days later, another man, Eugene Sluder, in nearby Newfound said he saw the bird flying point in a formation of four. The buzzards “were headed west,” he said, but only the leader was belled.”

Since I first read about them, I’ve discovered belled buzzards have been seen in several states-Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Have you ever heard of belled buzzards? I imagine it would be an eerie sound to hear one as it flew over the house.


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  • Reply
    Michael Miller
    October 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Never seen or heard a belled buzzard. With all the noise pollution we have these days here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains I doubt we’d hear one if it flew right over the still.
    Since we currently have very few bald eagles in our area, my friends and I have speculated for years about loading up a roadkill possum with some Sominex™, catching ourselves some snoozing buzzards and whitewashing their heads and tails. As you probably know, our great American soaring symbol of war and peace certainly won’t cull a well aged and marinated helping of possum on the shoulder of US 19; however, unlike its carrion connoisseur cousins, the eagle has little or no sense of smell and therefore is dependent on the buzzard for finding its festered feasts.
    But I digress. Imagine the patriotism that would be stirred by seeing a wake (proper name for a buzzard flock) of bogus bald eagles circling overhead on July 4th here in Dawsonville. And maybe while the buzzards are still having a mid-day roost, we could fit them with some bells tuned to the first few bars of the Star Spangled Banner….

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    October 15, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Now THAT I’ve never heard of, and I’ve seen plenty of buzzards from MO to FL to GA to PA and to NC, especially lately here in the sand hills of NC, where flooding has left so many farm and wild animals drowned.
    After reading this, I wonder how’d feel to see one, whether it would be elation at finally seeing one or just plain creepy. LOL
    Praying everyone’s having a great weekend, and a safe one too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    mary Lou McKillip
    October 15, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    As my young nephews told me many years ago, that belled buzzard is a wrinkle in my horn. I never heard that expression either. We were in Mo and nearly got our truck window broken by a buzzard, how he brought his stinking body upright and didn’t smash our windshield is beyond me.
    I had just turned 65 on a spring warm day in Missouri and heard a Bobwhite calling for his mate. When I was a child I could mnemonic bird sounds and other animals. I still remembered the female response call to her mate. I sit and called a Bobwhite to within a foot of me, he had his feet curled and I thought he was going to fly in my face, that scared the wax out of me.
    Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Never heard of one, couldn’t imagine holding one long enough to put a bell around it’s neck, Have you ever seen one up close? Nasty ain’t the word, and with all that dead stuff they eat, bet their breath would knock you down..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 15, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I have heard or read about belled buzzards somewhere. I thought that, at one time, people, in some parts of the country, put bells on their turkeys so that others wouldn’t think they were buzzards and shoot them. Turkey buzzards do look like turkeys at a distance. I think that’s why they are called turkey buzzards.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Never heard of a belled buzzard but have never been fond of them even though I know they have a purpose in the ecological cycle. They perch on our roof and their droppings can damage the metal roof.. Our living room has a high ceiling to accommodate an eyebrow window over the French doors. Those ugly things occasionally take a mind to land on the porch roof and ferociously peck at the window while beating it and each other with the wings. – Quite disconcerting –
    Then, while visiting a friend, she spoke of loving to watch the buzzards circle in the sky – like kites with no string. That metaphor has come to mind watching eagles, – or sandhill or whooping cranes, but buzzards? It did make me take a second look with my mind’s eye. Guess beauty is where you look for it. . . sometimes fear is too.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

    One time when I had just made High School, that evening after supper daddy spotted that big thing that had been killing our chickens. He was sitting in a big oak tree on top of the mountain. Daddy hollered at me to get the .303 and shoot that thing, he knew I was a good shot. Soon as I shot, I saw him fall and I took the four fiests to find him. It had a triangular head and when my uncle saw it he said it was a Falcon, and I
    should bury that thing soon as possible. It had a 53 inch wingspread, I had never seen a bird so big, but he won’t get anymore chickens…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Jackie – Skinning a cat on the monkey bars doesn’t require that the cat be dead. In fact it doesn’t even require a cat.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 15, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Never heard tell of belled buzzards. In all my woods rambling I never found a buzzards nest either that I recall. Can’t figure what purpose could have been served thatmade it worthwhile. But it sure fits with Halloween.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Yesterday’s post about cats needs one more comment. When I hear people say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” , My response is, “But all of them require making sure the cat’s dead before you start.”

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 15, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Tipper–I had never heard of belled buzzards until I read Carden’s book a book many years ago.
    I find PinnacleCreek’s comment about changed times and chicken hawks interesting. Chicken hawks, and indeed all raptors, are federally protected. That was perhaps needed at one time but no more. Hawks are a factor, although by no means the only one, in the sad decline of the bobwhite.
    Another change I’ve noticed in my life involves the feeding habits of crows. They do a lot of scavenging of road kill today; when I was a youngster they seemed to feed almost exclusively on vegetative material.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 15, 2016 at 8:48 am

    I’ve never heard of a “Belled Buzzard” but my Dad told me of a similar event. When he was a youngster his Mother noticed that something was killing her chickens on their roost and had him place a steel trap in the tree where they roosted to try to catch whatever critter was killing their chickens. The next morning the trap was gone, it seems he hadn’t secured it very well to the limb. A few days later a neighbor who lived about a mile from them and was known to manufacture and consume a bit of corn liquor, stopped by the Post Office at Needmore (my Grandmother was the Post Mistress and the Post Office was located in their house) and tell of the Devil waking him a couple of nights earlier. He admitted he had been sampling a bit of his “shine” before going to bed, later he was awakened by something dragging something on the tin roof of his house, he was convinced Satan had showed up to collect his soul, The next day he spotted a Great Horned Owl perched in a tree near his barn with something on it’s leg, this being before the days of protecting raptors he shot the owl and discovered my Dad’s trap on it’s leg.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Never heard of them. Don’t know how you come uo with such info, but you are reguarly expanding my knowledge regarding many subjects.

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos
    October 15, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Nothing to do with the buzzards, but HAPPY SWEETEST DAY to you, Tipper, and your family from Eleanor L. in Ohio

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 15, 2016 at 7:04 am

    If you asked me if I’d ever heard of a buzzard with a bell I’d say , no never. However when you say the expression Belled Buzzard it rings a bell way back in my mind. I don’t recall from where but there is a memory just out of reach.
    It’s really kind of spooky, isn’t it.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2016 at 6:28 am

    This is one of the spookiest stories yet, and is just one of those stories that will never get lost with time. There is not a bird much uglier or scarier than a buzzard, so can certainly see why that mother would not want them kept as pets. With a night of intermittent insomnia I went ahead and read some of the stories on that link of Kinfolk Stories. It is a very interesting site with great old stories. It takes one back to a simpler time, and I will read more of it when time permits.
    Times have sure changed, as I can actually remember when farmers would shoot chicken hawks keeping predators of their free range chickens to a minimum. I suppose hawks are a protected species now.

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