Archive: Rescued Turkey Vulture “Couch-Surfs” at Detroit Zoo
Fledgling Builds Strength, Rejoins Wild Vultures Thanks to Detroit Zoological Society Staff
August 3, 2020
ROYAL OAK, Mich.,
A young turkey vulture found trapped in a stairwell on a neighboring golf course in Huntington Woods has now reunited with its wild counterparts after spending time at the Detroit Zoo building up its strength.
When Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) staff first observed the bird on the golf course after they were called for assistance, they searched for a nest and watched for any signs that a parent might be nearby and providing nourishment. Once it was clear the young turkey vulture was on its own and had moved into a stairwell near the course’s parking lot, staff made the decision to step in.
“When we rescued the bird, we noticed that its flight feathers had not completely grown in,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate bird curator for the Detroit Zoological Society. “We believe the bird left the nest prematurely and didn’t have the flight capability to return to it.”
With permission from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the fledgling was placed in a habitat in the African Forest at the Detroit Zoo, where DZS staff provided it with proper nourishment for several days. This habitat is also a spot where wild turkey vultures often roost and share food with the Zoo’s vultures. Once it was able, the young vulture simply flew away to join its wild counterparts.
“We noticed that the vulture kept getting higher up onto the perches each day,” she said. “One day, the bird was gone, and that’s exactly what we wanted to happen.”
There are roughly 25 wild turkey vultures who stay around the Detroit Zoo throughout the winter. This group of wild turkey vultures, which hangs out at Pierson Lake, is believed to include the fledgling’s parents.
“We are confident this bird’s parents frequent the Zoo, and we hope they have reunited,” said Van Dam.
Turkey vultures are secretive nesters and are abundant throughout Michigan. The birds are critically important to the environment, because they are scavengers and have incredibly strong stomachs to break down rotting carcasses. Turkey vultures are unique in that, unlike other vultures, they have a good sense of smell, which they can use to find food.