Friday, October 5, 2012

Meet Mortimer

What are the first three adjectives that come to mind when you think of a Turkey Vulture?  Well, if they aren’t “cute”, “sweet” and “adorable” then you haven’t met Mortimer!!
It's really hard to resist Mortimer's charms.
Mortimer is one of the newest residents at the World Bird Sanctuary.  Mort’s egg was laid by two of the resident Turkey Vultures, Attila and Hinkley, in our behind the scenes area breeding mews.

When he was just a few weeks old he was brought to our Nature Center to be raised by our Naturalists so that he could become accustomed to all the sights, sounds and activities he would encounter as one of WBS’s avian ambassadors. (Since we do not routinely subject our birds to surgical sexing, we will assume Mortimer is a male until such time as he proves us wrong by laying an egg.)

When he first joined our staff he appeared white!! – or at least his baby down feathers were white.  He also had a black head rather then the red head usually associated with Turkey Vultures.  (As he matures his head will turn the familiar red color.)  As time passed he began to lose his baby down and his first set of “real” feathers grew in.  However, at this point he looks like a little old man with a scraggly white beard, since some of his down feathers are still clinging in places. 
Mortimer is gradually losing his white down feathers
At first, since he was unable to fly, Mortimer was allowed the freedom to roam freely in an enclosed area, getting used to the comings and goings of our staff.  His major accomplishment in the ensuing weeks was exercising his wings and stealing everyone’s heart.  However, once he began to take his first tentative flights it was time to outfit him with jesses, and introduce him to his perch in the weathering area, where he joined our other avian stars.  Click here for a video of those early days.

At this point it was time to begin his formal “education.”  Training one of our avian ambassadors is serious stuff!  They need to learn things like stepping to a trainer’s glove, then balancing on the glove while being walked around the Nature Center amongst visitors.  They need to learn to go into and out of a travel crate without being afraid, and that doors will not eat them as they pass through.  They learn to step onto a scale to be weighed, and then to step back to the glove from the scale.  Mortimer has mastered all these skills with flying colors.
Mortimer and Naturalist Cathy Spahn at Birds in Concert - Photo by Sandra Lowe Murray
The next big step for Mortimer was to perform before large crowds—which he did this past August when he appeared at our Birds In Concert series.  A few people in the safety of the Nature Center is one thing—but two hundred people in the amphitheater, a band, and cameras flashing is another!  However, because Mortimer totally trusts his handlers and he got small doses of all the other things mentioned during his initial training, he passed this test like a pro.

Since that first public appearance he has passed another hurdle—traveling in the van to a distant location and then appearing at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.  This was a true test of all his careful training, since there is nothing more chaotic than a Renfaire with it’s crowds, banners, music, parades, strange animals (such as dogs, horses, snakes, etc.).  Mortimer took all of this in his stride and is well on his way to becoming a real pro.

When you visit the World Bird Sanctuary be sure to look for Mortimer.  It’s not often that you will have the opportunity to see a baby Turkey Vulture.  Check him out while he still has his juvenile plumage.

As with all our birds, Mortimer is available for adoption through our Adopt A Bird program.  If you don’t see Mortimer (or any bird you are interested in adopting) on our website you can call 636-861-3225, XT 10, and tell the person answering that you would like to adopt a bird.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

No comments: