We had stopped at the Atrium Hotel in Hutchinson where the North American Falconry Association (NAFA) national field meet was in full swing. We were admiring the hawks and falcons tethered to their perches in the weathering yard, a fenced-off portion of the lawn where the birds rested during daylight when not out hunting. Before us sat a menagerie of beautiful and remarkable birds; the Harris’ Hawks known to be the only social birds of prey that often hunt in groups in the wild; the Cooper’s Hawks, known as very fast aerial hunters that ambush their prey in mid-air; the Peregrine Falcons that climb to 1000 feet or more and fly above their humans below, free-falling out of the sky to whack flushed game at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, and the hardy, versatile and dependable Red Tail Hawks, which are very abundant here in the wild this time of year….. Then there was Bob, a young Turkey Vulture tethered to his perch in the front row. Don’t get me wrong, Turkey Vultures are amazing birds, and Bob was just as magnificent as the rest in his own way, but he was just a little out-classed. Now everyone and everything has a story, and Bob is no different.
Falconers Mario and Brandi Nickerson run Natures Edge Wildlife Rescue near Ft. Worth Texas, specializing in reptiles and birds of prey. About three weeks ago they began getting calls from local animal control about a Turkey Vulture in town. Each time they verified that the bird appeared to be healthy and OK, but just a little out-of-place. The third call however was different. It seems Bob was walking around in the middle of the local football field while practice was in session. The local animal control people were afraid to approach it and by the time Brandi and Mario got there, the bird was precariously perched on the roof of a nearby single story house. Now they had gone prepared for a rodeo in capturing the bird, with tarps and gear to throw over the vulture if possible, and carefully roll the bird up inside and carry it away. Ironically, stuck in a nearby chain link fence was the carcass of a dead squirrel, so using the dead squirrel as bait, they tossed the carcass near the house and waited. In just a few minutes the vulture flew down, strolled nonchalantly over to the squirrel and picked it up. They slowly inched their way toward the feeding bird, tarps and gear at the ready, awaiting a tussle that never happened. They were able to walk up to him, literally pick him up, place him in a crate and walk away. The next morning at home, Brandi opened the cage and held out a dead rat, and Bob waltzed casually over to her and took his breakfast from her hand.
Closer inspection of Bob’s feathers and consideration of his demeanor convinced them that Bob had been raised somewhere by humans, and was now “imprinted,” meaning that he no longer believes he is a vulture, but rather believes he is human, and must for now, rely on them for everything. Mario and Brandi are able to keep Bob because of their falconry permit, and are in the process of getting required permits to possibly use Bob for educational purposes.
As wildlife rescuers, the Nickerson’s goal is two-fold; to re-adopt rescued pets to new homes and to release wild-rescued critters back into the wild. They’re not sure if Bob can ever be re-released back into the wild, but how cool would it be to have a pet Turkey Vulture; talk about a conversation starter! Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]