Jackson County

He found two mystery eggs, but what hatched was more than just ugly ducklings

The baby vultures are growing. And they are very hungry.

Billy Payne raises two baby vultures for the Wildlife Care and Rescue Center. Video by Tim Isbell/Sun Herald
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Billy Payne raises two baby vultures for the Wildlife Care and Rescue Center. Video by Tim Isbell/Sun Herald

A teenager hunting in the woods of north Jackson County found two eggs on the ground and took them home to his mother’s chicken egg incubator.

When they hatched, he knew his family couldn’t handle what was in there. They called for help.

The Wildlife Care and Rescue Center took in the two baby vultures at the end of March and they have their hands full ever since.

This week, they are the size of a young chicken — balls of reddish-gray fluff with a big black beak.

“They scream at you to feed them every time you move,” says Wildlife Care and Rescue Center Director Alison Sharpe. “They are a bottomless pit.”

The two chicks are turkey vultures — one of only two types of vulture in the state — and they eat more than all the other raptors at the center put together. These chicks are like nothing the center has experienced before.

It’s baby season, and between the vulture chicks and other baby birds of prey, the rescue center is racking up $1,500 to $2,000 a month in rat and meat costs.

“I call them my little gluttons,” said Billy Payne, the center’s board president, who cares for 15 injured or abandoned hawks and owls ... and then these guys.

Found on the ground?

Turkey vultures nest on the ground. They don’t even build a nest, they just lay the eggs on the ground, Sharpe explained.

So when the teen found them, she said, she could see how it would be a temptation to pick them up.

“What kid wouldn’t do that?” Sharpe said.

But what she wants people to know is that vultures are federally protected birds, like all the raptors in the state, and most other kinds of birds. They are protected under the Migratory Bird Act.

Nests and eggs should be left alone.

In the case of the turkey vulture, walking up to the nesting area could scare the adults off the eggs.

Need room to fly

Because these are the first vultures the wildlife center has raised from birth, it’s all new.

When they were newly hatched, they had to be fed tidbits of meat every two hours, unlike the typical raptor, Payne said.

These two are growing out of cage after cage. Sharpe calculates they have cages big enough to hold them for perhaps another month, but then they will need room to fly.

She said they are trying to find another wildlife center to take them as they get bigger, but that’s proving to be difficult because they aren’t supposed to cross state lines.

By the time they are ready to release, they will require a flight cage as big as one needed for an eagle, she said. “They have quite a wing span.”

While WCRC is building such a flight cage, it is still in the early stages of development and funding. They are looking for any donations, from construction help to materials.

An interesting defense

These birds have some fascinating features, Sharpe said.

The stomach acid in a turkey vulture is strong enough to kill anthrax.

They are nature’s cleanup crews, she said. That’s why they can come down on carcasses filled with maggots and eat.

The stomach acid also is a defense mechanism, Sharpe said. They will vomit acid, so when crews rescue injured adults, they have to make sure the bird’s head is turned away from them.

In the wild, with parents, these two chicks would be eating a variety of meat from road kills — racoons, squirrel and deer.

For now, the center is careful with what it feeds them, which is mostly store-bought rats and some donated deer and elk meat, because the chicks are being raised in captivity and don’t get the benefits they would have with their parents.

But their appetites are growing.

And Sharpe said she’s at the point where she isn’t opposed to looking for a little road kill, too.

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