How to Travel with a Turkey Vulture!

By: Sandra Davey, Acting Raptor Centre Lead, Mountsberg Conservation Area 

When we have a new bird join our education team at the Raptor Centre, there are many things that the bird needs to learn in order to be a successful ambassador. We start by getting them used to being around us, then standing on the glove and accepting food from us, and then slowly get them used to being around our visitors. The birds that do well in our on-site programs often graduate to travelling off-site with us as well.

Buzz the Turkey Vulture joined our team in September 2014. Although not physically injured, Buzz is not releasable to the wild. It is believed that Buzz was illegally kept by someone over the first winter of his life. He does not socialize well with other vultures but is very social towards humans.  Buzz has become comfortable with his life at the Raptor Centre and is very accepting of meeting school children and our weekend visitors. The next step in Buzz’s career with us is learning how to travel!

Just how do you travel with a Turkey Vulture? Well, first of all you need something safe and comfortable for him to travel in! Raptors are most comfortable travelling in a dark box. While some of our smaller birds like Bean the American Kestrel will travel in a pet carrier, a wooden box is dark, sturdy, and safe for the bird and it’s feathers. This means that for our bigger birds, we have to build something ourselves! Luckily, we are a handy bunch.

First step in building a vulture box is gathering all the materials. Strong but light-weight is key – we have to be able to carry it with a 5 pound vulture inside it! Thin wooden panels, nailing strips, screws, hinges, paint, varnish, and a handle are all on the shopping list.

The next step is painting one side of all the panels black so that the inside of the box will be as dark as possible. After that it is time to start assembling! The nailing strips are used to screw the panels together.

Once the sides are in place, the back and top can be added.

Now it’s time to add the door! Since the birds are always carried on our left fist, we want the door to be at their back when we open it, so the hinges always go on the left side of the box.

Now add a hasp to safely close and lock the door, an eye hook to tie the leash to, and a handle to carry the box and your vulture box is built!

After that, all that’s left to do is varnish the box inside and out for durability and easy clean up (remember, raptors go to the bathroom about every 10 minutes!), and add a comfortable and stable perch and your vulture box is ready to use!

Now you might be asking – how do you get the vulture to go into the box? We use positive reinforcement training to teach our birds new skills. We break the new task into small steps and then reinforce the bird for successfully performing each small step.

So far Buzz has accepted being on the glove next to the box, being backed into the box, and standing and staying on the perch. The next steps are to have him accept the door slowly being closed and then the box being picked up. We are confident that Buzz will take this all in stride and that one day soon you will be able to enjoy meeting Buzz up close and personal at one of our many off-site presentations. In the meantime, visit Buzz at the Raptor Centre!

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