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  • Writer's pictureJane Schnelker

Featured resident: Victor the Turkey Vulture

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

One of our residents is Victor the Turkey Vulture. The first 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 nineteen 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.

Victor was given a chance at living the life he was born to. When he was old enough, we took him to a vulture roost at a volunteer's house about 4 miles away. He lived there amidst the other vultures in a huge cage for a week and then was released. He seemed to blend in nicely with the others and left each day with them, coming back at nite for about 3 nites. Then he disappeared. Then a phone call came from someone who reported a huge bird following her children around the yard untying their shoes. (Victor had a shoelace thing going on....) I went and picked him up and brought him home. Since then he has been a marvelous ambassador from the wild, giving visitors to Wildlife Haven an opportunity to have a good look at him and to learn more about a vulture's natural history and the problems they face in today’s world.


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