One of our newer residents is Victor the Turkey Vulture. The picture of Victor accompanying this article was taken when he was a baby—a large fuzzy white baby—about the size of a full grown chicken. Victor will be two years old this spring and looks nothing like that cute downy baby anymore—but he still has a sweet disposition. Victor should have had a normal vulture life in the wild but he was stolen from his nest by a young boy and then kept for a week in the house—during a critical developmental time. Victor knows he is a vulture but does not have the fear of humans that he needs to have to survive in the wild. This is very common with vultures raised in captivity. It seems that no matter what precautions are taken to keep them wild they tend to bond with people. And Victor was at a disadvantage from the start since he was kept as a ‘pet’ for that crucial period of time.
The Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, is a fascinating bird. The head of the Turkey Vulture is one of its unique characteristics, being very small in size compared to its large body. The head and neck of adults are red in color and lack feathers, with the exception of a thin layer of down. Most of you will never have the opportunity to know this first hand, but the top of a vulture’s head has tiny accordion-like folds and is velvety soft to the touch. The wings extend to 6 feet in width and form into the shape of a wide, shallow “V” when in flight. The feathers are nearly black at first glance, however, they are delicately patterned, somewhat iridescent, and the primaries (wing feathers) have a silvery lining. The feet are more chicken-like than hawk-like and the beak, while sharp, is not nearly as strong as a raptor’s beak either.
Most of the bird’s time is spent soaring gracefully over the land in search of the animal carcasses on which it feeds. The vulture’s keen senses of both smell and sight aid in the location of rotting meat. This carrion-eating makes it a most beneficial species because it cleans up decaying animals that could be a potential disease source. They usually hunt 200 feet above ground or just above the tree tops and can also be seen soaring in groups called “kettles” high on thermal currents.
Mating occurs in the spring with 2 eggs being laid on bare rock, in hollow trees or in dense shrubbery…. no nest materials are used. Eggs hatch in about 5 weeks and the young fledge at 2.5 to 3 months—quite a long period compared to many other birds.
We hope to add a new display aviary in our public area for Victor. He is currently being housed in one of the private aviaries used for rehabilitation due to their being no exhibit space for him! Victor will need a reasonably large display aviary since he is able to fly and likes to be up high. When an aviary is built he will join Rocky the Great Horned Owl, Scarlet the Red-tailed Hawk, Oliver the Barred Owl, Falco the Kestrel, Freya the Screech Owl, Alba the Barn Owl and Serena the Bobcat as a permanent resident. These animals, not releasable for a variety of reasons, serve as ambassadors from the wild. They give visitors to Wildlife Haven an opportunity to have a good look at them and to learn more about their natural history and the problems they face in today’s world.
We are currently looking for someone who would like to fund the building of Victor’s aviary so that everyone will be able to enjoy him. An aviary of the size he needs will cost around $400. Hopefully funding will become available and Victor can be enjoyed by all the visitors to Wildlife Haven!