We have a turkey vulture in the hospital.
While vultures are common and we see them everywhere, they are not as common in our rehabilitation program and are a little different from a normal close-up patient.
Vultures are commonly seen while driving, catching ascending planes to fly over us on long and wide wings.
Turkey eagles are larger than all other birds of prey, except for eagles and condors, which are majestic, albeit somewhat clumsy birds.
They will be the big flying bird with their wings slightly raised into a “V” shape.
From afar it looks black, but in fact it is dark brown. The head is featherless (it is better to reach corpses with it) and red with a pale or white beak. The undersides of the flight feathers are light brown resulting in a two-tone appearance.
Turkey vultures can be confused with the black vultures that we also see in our region. But black eagles have much shorter tails that end at the tips of the toes.
Black eagles keep their wings almost flat, not in a “V” shape in flight. At the wingtip, they have a white outer primaries that form a white star near the wingtip. The rest of the wing is jet black.
Red-tailed hawks can also be confused with eagles from a distance. Red-tailed hawks have shorter tails, shorter and broader wings, and are steady in flight. The red tail is usually paler on the bottom.
Bald eagles have the same size, but the feathers on the head immediately rule out the presence of an eagle. Eagles also fly very well on flat wings and can be easily distinguished from the rocky flight of an eagle.
Eagles are one of the very few birds that can smell. They will fly relatively low on the ground, inhaling carrion or riding heat to higher points. They often soar in small groups and roost in bare trees in great numbers.
They may also be grouped around killing methods or other foods.
Turkey eagles used to coexist with humans. They will be along roads, over landfills, near garbage cans and farm fields. Roadside dining is often where the car will hit.
Our eagle exists because it does not fly.
It was found on the way. Which is huge. The wingspan of an eagle can reach six feet.
They can measure 32 inches long and weigh just over five pounds. But for all its size, you don’t have to worry about getting hurt by this bird of prey. Although they are about six feet by three feet, they appear larger due to the long feathers at the “toes” of the wing tips.
Their tail extends beyond their fingertips in flight. But they do not have the weapons of other birds of prey.
Usually, with raptors, we take two x-rays to get everything.
With this guy, we had to take six views.
It didn’t surprise me that the staff actually had views on both digital screens.
What surprised me was that I lost a broken wing in an eagle. To be fair, our vulture came crawling with moths and I probably wasn’t as diligent in my initial exam in a short while.
But as I looked from one screen to the next, nothing was right.
I asked the staff if there were any difficulties taking the six-foot wingspans.
They insisted there was no.
But the eagle on screen had a broken left humerus. The ventral-dorsal view on the second screen did not occur.
Before I had them retrieve the radiographs, they laughed as they put the eagles side by side.
After not seeing vultures for years at Guardian Animal, we saw one last month and now this one. The last one had him hit by a broken car.
This was shot with a rifle. We hope to be cured in a few weeks. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to care for.
There are no claws on the turkey eagle. The feet are more like the strong claws of a hawk or an owl.
While a hawk may need to push its claws into the crate of a rabbit, squirrel, or other prey, a turkey vulture food will not escape.
The beak is designed to rip food but the food is spoiled so the beak is not as strong. Interesting note: the eagle’s defense method is to regurgitate bad rotten food that is three to five days old. This food wasn’t bad after they had been in the hospital for a while, but everyone happily left Austin and I to feed him the first day.
Austin and I were getting food, insect medication, some stimulants for shock and definitely the eagle vomited. Most of them were on the floor, but there was some vomiting in the throat. I saw him on the floor, but Austin was expecting the normal vomiting of an eagle.
I was going Austin when I reached into my mouth and pulled out a piece of vomit with my bare hands. The bacon was reasonably fresh. The good Samaritans must have fed her on their way.
Eagles are interesting in other ways, too.
When I was in veterinary school, I was looking at a blood sample from an eagle.
There was a parasite in the blood that I hadn’t seen before.
Since I was a double student and was studying for my advanced degree in parasitology, I spent some extra time researching this parasite.
I happened to mention to one of my professors that I found a new parasite.
He performed electron microscopy and confirmed that he had a new parasite.
Somehow, when I reported the parasite, he failed to mention my work and my work, but he gave me a picture of the electron microscope image.
Although we consider them an interesting bird on a long flight, there is a religious sect in India that leaves human bodies in special places to eat very large vultures.
When vultures were dying from the painkillers that were given to the cows, there were not enough vultures to care for human remains. Good scientific work identified medicine from cow carcasses and paved the way for changes that brought back the vulture population.
Our vulture will spend three to six weeks here, before it is healed enough to be released.
Although it needs to fly, it does not need to be cut, the strong flight of the hunting bird, so the prognosis is good.
While this common bird is an unfamiliar visitor, we hope it will quickly learn to eat on its own. Vomiting is an effective defense.
MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is an Amazon bestselling author and practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Kentucky GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566
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