Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vulture Visitors

Anyone who has followed my blog for long knows that I love vultures. I first saw them at the Falls of the Ohio, and love telling our visitors more about vultures than they ever want to know. At Raptor Rehab, we have two Turkey Vultures among our educational birds, and the wild vultures often come to  visit. The first time I saw this, I panicked, thinking that EO had escaped from his cage! How many vultures do you count in the trees above the Center?

Black Vultures are smaller than Turkey Vultures, with a 5' wingspan instead of 6'. They have black heads, of course, and a white patch at the tip of each wing. Their tails are shorter, and they have to flap more often than the Turkey Vultures, but they are still good fliers.

They don't have a good sense of smell, but find their food with their excellent eyesight. While a Turkey Vulture can find food by smelling it through the trees, the Black Vulture tends to hunt in river valleys, lowlands and open areas where they have a better field of vision. When dead fish wash ashore at the Falls of the Ohio, the Black Vultures descend for the feast. Black Vultures watch Turkey Vultures to follow them to a carcass found by their sensitive sense of smell. Then the Black Vultures chase them away from the meal. Black Vultures have also been known to actually kill newborn calves.

Baby vultures are cute and fluffy, just adorable! Since their parents don't actually build a nest, people find them on the ground and assume that they have been abandoned by their parents, when the parents are just out looking for a nice smelly carcass. Thinking they are saving these cute little birds, the people take them home, and the bird becomes "imprinted" on people. In other words, the chick think it's a person, and looks to people for food, help, etc. In a few months, of course, they are no longer cute little chicks, but full grown Black Vultures.

This fall we received two such imprinted Black Vultures at the Raptor Rehab Center. They are perfectly healthy, but can't be released into the wild because they really don't understand how to be wild birds. Vultures have bad reputations as a general rule, since they scavenge carrion. But Black Vultures have worse reputations than Turkey Vultures as they tend to be more aggressive.  All vultures will bite, and our Turkey Vultures don't like me. Our directors are trying to find another licensed raptor center that would like to have a nice imprinted Black Vulture for their program, but so far we've had no interest. John decided to put jesses on them this week to start the "manning down" process, and I got to help!  As you can see, I was very excited to work with this bird! It didn't bite me even once, although our director reminded me that they get more bitey when they start producing hormones.

So if any of you know of a LICENSED rehabilitator who would be interested in adding a Black Vulture to their cast of birds for educational programs, please get in touch with Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc.


Jen said...

Ooh great photos- how interesting to be able to work close up with these birds!

Karen Bonsell said...

Great post, I did not realize there were so many differences between Black & Turkey Vultures! You explained it very well! said...

here in mt. pleasant sc, is birds of prey,They keep a fully stocked table for the wonderful vultures. I was happy to see 3 of them soaring and gliding, at low tide, where there was a nice snack of stranded bait. they flew so low over us. what a treat. berautiful !