Turkey Vulture Hangover Fix

We have some really cool friends. One of whom is Kitty, who among many other talents is a caterer to bands. Now, when I say bands, I don't mean like Kielbasa Kings, I mean mainstream bands you might actually have heard of: Motley Crue, Depeche Mode, Justin Timberlake, etc. Yesterday, she came into town with TOOL and we met her and the crew for some drinks at their hotel. And I learned two things:

1. The Embassy Suites in downtown St. Paul has ducks inside their hotel.

2. And I don't quite have the alcohol tolerance I did in college. Sigh.

I have to say that after tossing a few back and then seeing a duck fly in the lobby of the hotel, I thought that I was ready to be cut off. But I went to the lobby and sure enough, there were ducks in the fountain. It looked like the hotel had cinnamon teal, wood ducks, and green-winged teal. But looking at the photos today, some of them had an odd shape or their markings are a little off. They must be hybrids from a game farm. Anyway, it's nice to know that even when a few sheets to the wind, I can still find the birds and id them...sort of.

I got a big kick meeting all of the back stage guys (wish I could remember their names)--especially the tour accountant. I tried to tell him that he was the hippest accountant I had ever seen, but he kept stressing that he wasn't really an accountant, that was just a title (kind of like people who have all the birding gear but won't call themselves birders). I met another guy who had a mother who lived in New Zealand and he lamented that she only came to visit him when he was in an area with a lot of bird species to add to her list. There's another guy looking to sample bird calls for music and I'm going to try and hook him up--he really wants a western meadowlark. All in all it was a great time...until I woke up this morning. Ugh!

And as much as I really wished I could have stayed burrowed under the sheets, I had to go to The Raptor Center for my weekly volunteer shift. I felt awful, but staying home was not an option. We had a big program scheduled and my not feeling well was entirely my own fault, not the result of a stray virus. I drove in after copious amounts of juice and coffee, hoping that working with the birds or giving a program would take my mind of off my uncertain stomach.

One of the things we are supposed to do on the morning shift is check on all the ed birds, make sure all are upright and to pick up any leftover food from the day before. Quite a few of the birds will leave behind rat skins, fish bones, chicken feet, etc. The photo above is my black glove that I use for handling. We use different gloves for different tasks, that way the birds have an idea of what we are doing when we enter their mew.

This is the big blue welder's glove that we wear when we are picking up scraps, tossing food in the mew or anything not related to giving a program. It's especially important when you are going to pick up food--sometimes the birds get a little territorial. They're not going to eat that dried up and stinky rat skin, but at the same time, they don't want you to have it. If a bird comes at you, this is your main defense. We have a great horned owl that likes to ricochet off of your head, and sometimes eagles or red-tails might run at you.

This is a little glove you can wear on your other hand so your skin doesn't have to come into contact with the leftover food. I prefer not to wear this glove when entering mews because it takes me longer to pick up the food and I really don't mind picking up old rat bits with my hands, I can easily wash them.

Some of the birds are more challenging than others. We sometimes will rotate who takes what out of which bird's mew. Today, Nero, the imprinted (thinks he and humans are the same species) education turkey vulture had some rat skin and fish bits inside his mew. He was sitting right next to the door and was not about to move. I offered to go in and get the scraps, because Nero always flies away from me when I enter his mew and sits on top of his hutch where I have no chance to reach him. He figured out years ago how short I am, so that I wouldn't be able to reach him and take him out for programs. He knows the exact spot to stand on top of his hutch so I will have no chance to grab his jesses (bracelets all the birds wear on their ankles that we use to attach them to leaches). Clever bird.

Look at that beady little head giving me the hairy eyeball. You can't see it from this angle, but he has a mailbox shaped perch near the door. He was on the far end of the perch when I opened it. I stepped in and waited for him to fly up. He didn't, he sat looking quite relaxed. As I picked up the scraps, I noticed some fish pieces back in the corner and went back quickly to retrieve them. When I turned around to leave, he had adjusted his position on the perch and was blocking me from going out. "Hm," I thought, "this is new. Maybe he won't fly away from me anymore and I might be able to use him for program again." It was at this precise moment, that Nero jumped off of the mail box perch and when straight for my legs. I was wearing some capris and had skin exposed, I shoved down the blue glove to block his attack. He jumped and thrashed, trying to dodge it and managed to get a hold of the hem on my left pant leg. He whipped his little head around trying to rip them and jockeyed for a better position. This is where it gets hard. One the one hand, you want to protect yourself, on the other hand, you do not want to hurt the bird (and there is also the third hand of not wanting to scare the vulture so it will barf on you in defense--yuck).

His attack continued and I could feel his chest pressed against my hand, trying to get a better bite. My hand slid down his chest and he jumped up, this time landing on the glove. I quickly raised my hand up and put him in handling position, like I would for a program. This kind of confused him--he was perched the way he was trained to be perched, but the glove wasn't the usual glove. I used those few seconds of his confusion to secure his jesses in my gloved hand and stood for a moment. As soon as I had him secure, the bird curator poked her head in smiling and said, "Hey, what's going on?" She had seen what happened and said I did everything right and then got a handling glove and crated him for a bit. The bottoms of my capris have little tassels and she wondered if the tassels where what Nero was after. Mental note: don't wear tassels in the vulture mew.

I noticed after the vulture incident, that I wasn't feeling my hangover so much anymore. Nothing like a little vulture therapy. Here is a video I took of Nero later on in the morning after he was placed back in his mew with a touch of improved Jaws soundtrack: