Suli the turkey vulture spent her time in our garden this summer being the star of our twice-daily program, at least in HER opinion. Hayabusa, the peregrine falcon, would probably argue this point, as I am sure she thought SHE was the star! Unfortunately, with all this outside time, Suli seems to have forgotten that she can go inside a strange building and survive the experience. In fact, she is not even sure she likes to go inside ANY building, other than the mews.
When our summer programs ended, it was time to begin outreach programs again. Our first one was on September 4, at the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin, Wyoming. Suli was easy to load into her travel kennel: she was used to spending time in her kennel waiting for her turn, during our summer programs.
As is usual when we travel, she was given something to occupy her time, and a blanket was placed over her, as looking out during a move can be VERY SCARY!!!!! Suli is a bit of a scaredy cat, basically shy, and suspicious of all things new. The trip went well, and there were no unusual sounds coming from the four travel boxes loaded into the back of the van. We carried the boxes inside and began setting up for our program. All things were still well with Suli. During the trip she had occupied her time by completely shredding the paper tube she had, and then had proceeded to pull a surprisingly large portion of her cover through the bars of the door on her kennel. Pulling the blanket back out and checking on her, she showed no signs of nervousness. Our program plan was that Melissa would talk about each bird, with each entering when it was their turn. Isham the red-tail hawk would enter first; then Hayabusa the peregrine falcon, whom I brought out and handed off to Melissa, followed by Teasdale the great-horned owl, and Suli entering last.
When Teasdale entered, I opened Suli’s door, and she gladly stepped right up onto my glove. Then things weren’t so great. I could tell right away that she was becoming upset. This was not the first time she had traveled. Over the past winter, she had been on a number of trips, and had gotten quite used to it. Despite this, when I removed her from her kennel, what she saw was not what she was expecting. Suli began looking around, swinging her head just like Hayabusa, who continually checks out everything. At times she would stop and stretch her head out examining something that had caught her eye. She was unsure of where she was, and what it all meant for her. A few times she stretched her head toward me, tilted it to the side, and eyed me. Was she asking me what was going on? I wish I could read her mind, or at least her signals. I whispered in a reassuring voice, “It’s OK Suli.”
She opened her wings, as she often did in our summer programs, but there was no sun, and she wasn’t outside, so she closed them, and continued looking around. Her time arrived, and as I walked her past the audience, she half opened her wings, but changed her mind, this just wasn’t right. Was she thinking, “Who are these people? Where am I?” As I stood with her, Melissa was describing all the wonderful ways that vultures help us out, as well as other interesting things about vultures. Suli again half opened her wings, but staring at the people, she again changed her mind. It was just too scary, better not to look! Suli turned her back to the audience, forcing me to also turn, as she is supposed to stand facing toward me. When I turned, she therefore had to turn a second time to keep her back toward the audience. She was quivering, and I could feel her shaking on my glove. I tried to whisper that it was OK, but she didn’t even look at me, she KNEW it wasn’t OK!
After a time she began taking small peeks over her back, until she was confident enough to again stare at the folks who were looking at her. Slowly I turned toward the audience. Maybe things weren’t quite as bad as she feared. She stopped shaking, and she turned to face the audience. Still, at the end of the program when the audience clapped, she only cautiously opened her wings half way in response. She was still unsure about the whole thing, but it was over, and time to go home!
I placed her back in her travel kennel and give her a paper towel to play with on the way home. And what a homecoming! Suli was given an entire rat (already dead, of course) for her dinner! Yummy! Our program was so well received, that they are already talking about having us back in the future. Suli survived her day, and I know that she will adjust, and will be a star once again.
Comment from Visitors:
You have the best job in the world!
I am still filled with as much awe, love, and complete joy in working with these birds as the first time that Isham stepped onto my glove. I may get paid $0.00 per hour, but this IS the best job anyone could have!