My rehabber friend Lisa Acton, who is with Animal Kingdom USA Wildlife Rehabilitation, picked up her phone and heard the voice of an elderly lady.
“It’s a Raven,” said the voice. “He’s hurt and he can’t fly. I’m afraid to go near him, because I think he’s going to attack me and peck my eyes out.”
“Run, Tippi!” screamed Lisa. “Get away, before he and all his psycho bird friends tear the roof off your house!”
Lisa didn’t really say that. She thought about it, though, as all rehabbers do whenever someone refers to having their eyes pecked out. I’ll always remember the time my three bird rehabber friends and I watched Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” all of us choking with laughter as poor, delicate Tippi Hendren spends most of the movie racing away from marauding packs of crows and gulls, as well as the occasional angry sparrow.
“I don’t know what she’s screaming about,” one friend finally concluded. “From my point of view, she’s having a pretty good day.”
Anyway, Lisa arrived at the lady’s house. Huddled next to a tree in the darkness she found not a raven but a juvenile Turkey Vulture, almost grown but still sporting tufts of down. She threw a towel over him, bundled him into a crate, and brought him home.
He was thin, but had no injuries. The following morning Lisa returned to the house but found no nest, nor any sign of vultures. She returned home and called every rehabber she knew, looking for a surrogate parent; or, at least, for a companion, as the last thing you want hanging around your house is an imprinted turkey vulture. Naturally, the vulture larder was empty.
For the next three weeks, as she waited fruitlessly for a return call, hers grew bigger, stronger, and more frustrated with his captivity. Lisa installed a mirror in his enclosure, handled him as little as humanly possible, and hid her face when she brought him his meals so he wouldn’t associate a human with food. Finally, the phone call came.
“Jackpot!” said a rehabber friend. “Just took in two of ‘em!”
Lisa reached into her vulture’s enclosure with a towel, intending to encircle him with it and transfer him to a travel crate; in return, the vulture snaked his head out from beneath the towel and gave her a good bite on the neck. Obediently she dropped the towel, and he burst out of the enclosure and flew across the room. He ricocheted off one wall, turned over a table, and headed for the stairs leading to the pantry. He barreled through, knocked an entire shelf from the wall, and disappeared.
One of the more interesting things about vultures is their judicial use of vomit as a defense mechanism. In the normal sequence of events, a predator spots a vulture and makes a move; the vulture vomits, and the predator immediately ceases, desists, and flees. When the setting is The Great Outdoors, this is not a problem; when it’s The Inside Of Your House, it is.
Lisa reports that for a bird taking its first real flight, this vulture did a heck of a job. He stayed just ahead of her, vomiting his way through her living room and bedroom; he tore into the bathroom and perched briefly on the shower rod, before covering the shower curtain with a thick trail of vulture doo. She went to grab him and he hopped off the rod and hit the ground running, giving her leg a good bite on the way out. She limped after him as he blew into the office, perching briefly on the $1200 suede couch.
“No!” she screeched, but it was too late; after heaving onto one of the cushions, he passed her again on his way into the kitchen. He knocked several picture frames off the wall, sent the breakfast dishes crashing to the floor, then hurled himself into the screen door, which, obligingly, gave way. The last Lisa saw of him he was gaining altitude and heading for the distant treetops, and then he was gone.
This is not the way rehab stories are supposed to end. In a perfect world, he would have gone to the other rehabber’s place, hung out with two fellow vultures for a few weeks, then the three of them would have been released together, into an established and welcoming flock of wild vultures. In a perfect world, Lisa would not have ended up standing in her living room, inhaling the most vile of odors, and contemplating the wreckage of her house.
But then, a rehabber’s world is not often a perfect one.