A vulture, I say!
Why, you may ask? Because they get up late and spend most of the day riding thermals with their vulture pals, keeping an eye out for roadkill but mostly just soaring and playing and soaking up the sun. Sure, there’s a gross-out factor, especially when it comes to diet, but a vulture is programmed by evolution to enjoy carrion the same way a human is programmed by evolution to enjoy a well-marbled ribeye. I’d just like my deceased ungulates a little less processed if I were a vulture. No biggie.
My diet would give me the spectacular defense mechanism of vomiting carrion onto aggressive parties. Step up on me and you’d get rancid meat in the face. Ha!
I’d be “ugly,” too, but no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The captive turkey vulture at Ijams Nature Center believes herself a great beauty, judging by how much time she spends preening and strutting before the visitors. Even she is an exception – most birds show zero indication that they care what humans think of them. Wilderness-dwelling birds may be unaware of humans as separate entities.
The question would be: turkey vulture or black vulture? A birder can generally tell these species apart by their aura*. if you look up in a tree, see a big black bird, and think “Look, a vulture,” then you’ve probably seen a turkey vulture. If you look up in a tree, see a big black bird, and think “OH MY GOD IT’S A HARBINGER OF DOOM FROM THE DEPTHS OF HELL!” then you’ve probably seen a black vulture. Bulky, scary black vultures look badass, but I think I’d rather be a turkey vulture. Turkey vultures have a leaner shape for more graceful soaring.
A lot of people hate vultures, but I love them enough to want to be one. I guess it’s my knowledge of what a world without scavenging birds looks like, combined with the pleasure of watching my local vultures circle lazily in the summer air.
* Birding by intuition (getting the gist of the bird) is called “jiz birding,” because the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Bushtit v. Woodcock case that all birding slang must sound unspeakably filthy