"... cry 'Riddikulus' -- and concentrate hard on your grandmother's clothes. If all goes well, Professor Boggart Snape will be forced into that vulture-topped hat, and that green dress, with that big red handbag."
-- Remus Lupin, DADA teacher (PA7)
The vulture is a large scavenger bird with a featherless head and a taste for carrion, associated with death.
- Neville's Gran wears a "tall" hat with a stuffed vulture on top (PA7).
- When Neville faced the Boggart in Professor Lupin's cabinet, he imagined his worst fear - Professor Snape - dressed as his Gran, which made Snape the laughingstock of the school (PA8).
- At Christmas dinner, Dumbledore played a joke on Snape by handing him a Christmas cracker that opened to reveal a vulture hat. Snape made Dumbledore swap him his own wizard hat (PA11).
- In fourth year, Madam Trelawney predicted that death was circling the towers of Hogwarts ""it comes, ever closer, it circles overhead like a vulture, ever lower. . . ever lower over the castle. . . ." (GF21). She was right considering the later deaths of Barty Crouch Sr. and Cedric Diggory.
- Madam Pince in the Hogwarts library has "vulture-like" traits, "sunken cheeks," "skin like parchment," and a "long hooked nose" (HBP15).
- Elphias Doge called news writer Rita Skeeter a "vulture" for the way she pestered him to talk about Dumbledore (DH8).
- According to Newt Scamander, the Augurey bird resembles a "small ...underfed vulture" (FB).
In the modern world, the vulture is considered hideous and repulsive, and the birds are almost universally associated with death and decay. Does that mean that Gran Longbottom and Irma Pince are somehow connected to Death Eaters? It might seem so, but Rowling is doing a little symbolic magic of her own, looking back to the ancient world where vultures were revered, not only for the welcome way they cleaned up the landscape, but also for their magnificent flying ability and large wings.
The ancient Egyptians in particular held vultures in high esteem, and associating them with the protective Mother Goddess, Nekhbet:
Nekhbet usually was depicted hovering, with her wings spread above the royal image, clutching a shen symbol (representing eternal encircling protection), frequently in her claws. As patron of the pharaoh, she was sometimes seen to be the mother of the divine aspect of the pharaoh, and it was in this capacity that she was Mother of Mothers ...