The adventure began in early May during the spring passerine banding sessions, when Turkey Vultures were consistently seen perched not far from the station. On a hunch, Lisa Kiziuk went investigating and found 2 large, white eggs. The vultures were nesting in a well-concealed spot under a fallen tree.
Though busy with banding, Lisa occasionally checked on the vulture family, and several weeks later, was delighted to find two small, fluffy chicks standing upright. This was a first confirmed breeding record for the species at Rushton Farm, and she was determined that they be banded once they were old enough.
Fast-forward to yesterday, when Bracken Brown and David Barber, licensed vulture banders from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, journeyed down from the Appalachian ridge to Chester County to tag these birds. Rushton banders Doris McGovern, Lisa Kiziuk and Blake Goll were thrilled to watch the process.
Bracken and David crawled deep into the dense tangle to retrieve the young chicks. From the edge of the woods we could hear the birds hissing, a noise that sounds like an old television’s snowy screen. They emerged with each of the two fluffy white chicks in burlap bags, and carried them to the nearby banding table.
The first chick taken out of the bag immediately spewed a putrid mixture. This is a defense mechanism employed by vultures. Luckily Bracken was well aware of this typical behavior and was holding the bird at arm’s length.
Bracken and David took measurements of wing length and body weight on each bird. Their black flight feathers were just begining to grow in, contrasting nicely with their juvenile white down. Their age was estimated at 36 days. A blue, numbered tag was affixed to one wing on each bird. Leg bands are not used on vultures, because the birds defacate down their legs, and the presence of leg bands could cause infections.
After many photographs and inspections from all angles, Rushton Farm’s first recorded Turkey Vuture chicks were returned safely to their abode, hopefully to fledge in another 4-7 weeks.
If you see a Turkey Vulture sporting a wing tag – #250, #301 or any other number – please note the date, location, and tag number. Contact Hawk Mountain at www.hawkmountain.com, and give them the data. Your sighting contributes to important information about the distribution and migration of Turkey Vultures.