Young Vultures Head Home After Long Stay in Wildlife Care Center

By Tinsley Hunsdorfer, Digital Communications Manager

What’s a vulture to do when it flies free for the first time in months? In the case of two juvenile Turkey Vultures recently returned to the wild by the Bird Alliance of Oregon, head for the sky and ride the thermals.

Photo by Steve Young

As we reported in an earlier blog post, these young birds had spent the winter at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center. The birds were injured in September, and while they soon made a full recovery, they didn’t recuperate in time to join other Oregon vultures on their fall migration to California and Mexico. When vultures started returning to the Portland area this spring, Bird Alliance of Oregon staffers knew it was time to get the youngsters back into the wild.

To prepare the vultures for their eventual release, we had already relocated the birds to a 100 foot-long flight cage, which provided the sizable scavengers with space to practice flying and perching (see below for photos). They were also given increasingly large mammal carcasses — progressing from rodents to an adult deer — so they could experience natural food sources and learn how to tear into them.

Bird Alliance of Oregon veterinarian Deb Sheaffer declared the birds ready for release in early June, and we soon selected Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve as their release site. In mid-June, about 200 people — including 100 school kids — watched the vultures get a second chance at life in the wild when the birds walked out of a large crate at Jackson Bottom and took flight.

Two young Turkey Vultures perch in one of our flight cages. Photo by Tinsley Hunsdorfer

One vulture flew straight for the sky while the second perched in a nearby tree, but it soon joined its companion at higher altitudes. As the birds started riding thermals for the first time in nine months, a pair of adult vultures joined them in the air, sun glinting off all four birds’ wings as they spiraled up and away. They continued cruising the entire time Bird Alliance of Oregon staff members remained at Jackson Bottom to keep an eye on the juvenile vultures’ progress and answer people’s questions about the birds.

The youngsters now have all summer to forage for food and continue learning from adult Turkey Vultures before hopefully joining a kettle – a large group of vultures – to journey south this September. Best of luck to them!

We’d like to thank the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve staff – particularly nature program supervisor Steve Engel, a past Bird Alliance of Oregon educator – for helping to organize the release.

Caring for these vultures proved to be quite expensive, as they ate more than most birds in our care and stayed at the Wildlife Care Center for nine full months. If you’d like to help cover the cost of their stay and make a difference for other wild animals that receive treatment at Bird Alliance of Oregon, please consider making a donation to the Wildlife Care Center.

One of the Turkey Vultures on its first flight out into the wild. Photo by Steve Young