Labor Day was also International Vulture Awareness Day and
to mark the event folks from the Avian Conservation Center for Appalachia (ACCA) released a rehabilitated Turkey Vulture that was found in
a foot trap a few months ago.
Jesse Fallon is the non-profit’s director of veterinary medicine:
“The bird was caught in an illegally set foot-hold trap in
Clay County, West Virginia. He had some pretty significant injuries to his foot
from the leg-hold trap and he was actually caught in the trap for a number of
days. So he was very thin and had some maggot infestations in his
wounds. So the bird was actually with us for about three months.”
Fallon says the vulture’s rehabilitation began with
stabilization and getting the bird strong enough to be able to withstand
surgery. Two surgeries and several weeks of physiotherapy later he’s tagged and
ready to be released.
Fallon and volunteers carry a large animal carrier out onto
the main overlook area at Coopers Rock where a crowd of about 50 people
patiently wait to see the release. Half a dozen turkey vultures are already coasting
on heat thermals in the sky above them.
The ACCA invited wildlife
researcher and professor at West Virginia University Todd Katzner to talk to
on-lookers about the vultures:
“Vultures are everywhere. They’re on every continent except Australia
and Antarctica, so they are all over the world, and
globally, vulture populations are in decline. There’s a whole suite of reasons
why vulture populations are in decline.
"In Africa the
thing that’s really getting the birds is people poisoning them and using them
in medicines. In Asia and South Asia
things like pharmaceutical drugs and veterinary medicine are having really
negative effects on vultures, they’re killing them everywhere. And of course
loss of food and habitat is having an effect on vultures all over the world.”
Katzner explained, too, that the birds are important environmental
indicators, telling researchers what kinds of toxins are in certain areas. Despite
being known for their projectile-vomit defense system and stomach acid with pH
levels comparable to hydrochloric acid, Katzner says they’re a critical
component of a healthy ecosystem and without them, human health can be
“If you have turkey vultures and other vultures then they
are the scavengers; they are the cleanup crew; they’re doing the sort of
garbage jobs out there. We need those types of things to have functioning
ecosystems. If we don’t have them, something is wrong and that’s potentially
going to have an impact on us as well.”
Fallon swings the cage door open, but with so many
spectators around, the bird hesitates to emerge. Since turkey vultures don’t
have a larynx, he stomps his feet and hisses in protest--the bird, not Fallon. Fallon has to reach in
to pull the vulture out.
“Okay, I’m going to give him a toss on three. One, two,
The vulture takes off into the sky as bird enthusiasts of
all ages cheer him on.
Erin Katzner is the vice chair of the board of directors for
the Avian Center.
She says the release is just one example of what the organization hopes to
accomplish in the future. She says its objectives include an array of citizen science
projects that aim to get people involved in learning about birds while
gathering research to better understand environments.
“For example one of the programs we’re getting ready to
start is a kestrel nest box monitoring program. So if you have a school with a
nice field where you think it might be a good habitat for a kestrel, we can put
up one of our nest boxes there. Your class or a group of people can monitor that
nest box for us and we’ll use that research to better understand the species
and why they might be declining in our region.”
Katzner says the organization was born out of a pressing need
for raptor rehabilitation--that they've already admitted 100 birds this year. She hopes communities will see ACCA as a resource
and help it grow to be able to serve more birds and create more community