Black Vulture (Case History #1)

Nestling Black Vulture fostered to nest with slightly older nestling

A hatchling Black Vulture from Tennessee was brought to the Alabama Wildlife Center when it was two days old. The egg had been found in a barn, and the farmer had hatched the egg under a lamp.  The nestling had never had contact with another vulture. The next day (day three), its eyes were beginning to open, and I could tell it was already beginning to be aware that humans were the source of food.  In most juvenile raptors this stage of development takes 10 days to 2 weeks.   Professor Jerry Jackson, then at the University of Mississippi at Starkville, put me in touch with David Robinson, a biologist at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, in Mississippi, who knew of a nest site on the refuge.

I could not arrange to make the trip until the following weekend, so we had to make sure that the bird could behave normally once placed in the substitute nest with another sibling.  In particular, we wanted make sure the young nestling would know how to take the food from the mother’s beak.  We fashioned a “beak” out of a piece of black rubber hose with a slit down both sides and one end trimmed to a point  The beak could be held in one hand, which was then wrapped in a black cloth.  Finely chopped rodent was stuffed into the “beak”, and then presented to the hatchling vulture.   The young bird had no trouble taking the meat out of the beak, and a few days later I drove to Noxubee and with the assistance of David Robinson placed the bird in the “nest”, the floor of a rotting shed covered with kudzu. The mother bird was in the shed, but was flushed from the building by the biologist. The other nestling appeared to be at least a week older than our nestling, but the size difference was minimal, and the birds interacted well.  As soon as we stepped away from the nest area, the mother vulture returned, and took a guarding position over her new nestling.

David monitored the juveniles for several months, and sent us pictures of the birds as they gained size.  Both birds fledged successfully.

Above: Teaching the hatchling to feed from the beak

Below: A follow-up visit to the shed showed the adopted orphan was doing well.

Comments are closed.