One day the chakoroch [turkey vulture] was siting in a tree watching a cow that was sleeping. A hawk spoke to the vulture and told him to go down and begin to eat it because it was dead. Finally the vulture was convinced that the cow was dead, flew down rapidly, and stuck its head in the cow's anus. Unfortunately the cow was still alive, and the vulture was barely able to withdraw his head, which emerged without feathers, and turkey vultures have had bald red heads ever since.
And here's another explanation:
El Kumix, who was the young maize god among the Ch'orti', was tryhing to go to heaven to see his mother, the goddess of the moon. Kumix asked a hawk to carry him to heaven, but he wasn't able to. Then Kumix asked a vulture to carry him. The vulture made a valiant effort using a mexapal, but halfway to heaven he dropped the mescapal and the two fell to earth. When the mecapal broke, it shaved the head of the vulture, leaving it bald and red. Some say that this was a curse that Kumix put on the vulture for not being able to carry him to the sky.
Whatever you think about vultures, they are an important part of our world and deserve our support!
Stories reported in “Los pájaros y el prognástico en la vida diaria de los Ch’orti’ Maya de Guatemala (Birds and Prognostication in the Daily Life of the Ch'orti' Maya of Guatemala),” Kerry Hull and Rob Fergus, in Proceedings of the XVIII Coloquio Internacional LAILA/ALILA, March 10-14, 2008, San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico, in review.