Sunday, March 16, 2014

Baton Rouge - Not The City

What type of animal has two legs, flies, and eats road kill?  If you were thinking of a vulture, then you are correct!  In this blog I will be discussing a very special vulture.  His name is Baton Rouge, Baton for short, and he is a very handsome King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)!

Baton came to the World Bird Sanctuary in 1998 from the BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo (hence his name). He was hatched the year before on April 11, 1997.  He has traveled to the North Carolina Zoo, Milwaukie County Zoo, and Boston’s Stone Zoo to fly in educational programs during the summer seasons. 
Anyone who says vultures are ugly has never seen a King Vulture in all it's glorious colors (photo by Lisbeth Hodges)

From his picture you can see his very colorful head.  Having a featherless head for a vulture is very important because of what they eat--carrion.  Carrion (dead animals) has the best pieces of meat inside the body cavity (heart, liver, lungs), so Baton would have to stick his head inside.  When he is done eating, he would just wipe his head on the grass to clean up, simple as that.  At WBS Baton is given a variety of meat such as rabbit, rat, fish, and venison.  He is not a picky eater, but he does seem to favor venison over the others.
How could anyone resist that face?  (photo by Lisbeth Hodges)
When Baton is done eating for the day, he loves to play with sisal rope toys.  And then in the afternoon, he absolutely loves to sun himself at his window.  When he launches himself from his perch during a show audiences are amazed by his impressive 5 foot wingspan.  
Stone Zoo show (photo by Teri Graves)
That pink bulge you see on his chest in the photo below is his crop, where his food is stored, even sometimes for a few hours, before traveling further into his body.
Baton Rouge performing in the WBS amphitheater (photo by Gay Schroer)

Here you can see that crop bulging with a good meal (photo by Lisbeth Hodges)
There are 22 species of vultures in the world, 15 Old World vultures and 7 New World vultures.  New World vultures are from the Americas, while the Old World vultures are from the rest of the world.  King Vultures are found from southern Mexico through Argentina in South America, so they are a New World vulture. 

The King Vulture presumably got its name from their size, and is named for being a messenger to the Mayan gods.  These vultures weigh from 5 to 10 pounds and stand from 27 to 32 inches tall, with females being larger than males.  King Vultures are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that both sexes look the same. 

Female King Vultures will lay one egg each year on the ground and both parents will take turns incubating it and feeding the chick as well.  Lifespan in captivity is around 30 years, but in the wild is unknown.

I hope you learned a little bit about Baton and his species.  They are one of my favorite vultures.  If you love vultures too, then I suggest coming to the World Bird Sanctuary on the first Saturday of September!  We celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day along with many other organizations throughout the world on that day.  Vultures are awesome birds and occupy an important niche in their ecosystems!  Find out why by coming to IVAD!

Baton Rouge is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.  Since during the cold winter months Baton Rouge resides in a heated building in our behind the scenes area, you will need to make an appointment to see him if you are his adoptive parent.

The World Bird Sanctuary is open daily from 8am-5pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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