“Stop, I see something”, Laurie yells from the passenger seat. I was preparing to pull onto a 2 lane road outside our neighborhood and hadn’t seen any traffic. I still didn’t see any traffic….
She excitedly points to the right, “there’s an injured bird in the bushes over there!” Sure enough, a few car lengths from the shoulder a big black vulture is limping, dragging a wing, and struggling to get further into the bushes.
Seeing us, it struggles even more and with good reason. Imagine, you’re feasting in the road when suddenly, Wham!! a giant, shiny object runs you over. Reeling from the blow, you gasp for breath and struggle to get as far away as possible. Thankfully, the big shiny object keeps going and you can now peacefully tend your wounds.
But wait, here comes another big shiny object. Now 2 giants come out and head over to you. You thought the day was bad before, it’s looking like it’s about to get worse…. Yeah, I’d run like hell too!
As volunteers at state parks and animal rescue organizations, we’re experienced with rescuing and relocating injured wildlife. From turtles in the middle of the road to birds that have been shot, we’ve seen a little bit of everything.
However, capturing a bird is a much different challenge, because if it is injured but has enough energy to fly away, you won’t be able to catch it and rescue it. By the looks of this guy, he’s not flying anywhere. However, nature is on his side as he slips into the wild, un-groomed area of our neighborhood.
This area is the real Florida….Sunlight creeps its way to the ground passing through vines, thorns, poison ivy, big trees, little trees, and the infamous Saw palmettos. We have to go in to this thick, natural area to retrieve this bird, so we look for potential openings in the undergrowth and begin the task of forcing the bird to an open area. Sounds easy enough, it’s just one bird and there are two of us.
We start tiptoeing in, over, under, around, through; any way possible to get this guy to move out where we can catch him. At one point I’m successfully making my way through the jungle of foliage when a large saw palmetto blocks forward progress.
I look around and can barely see the sun; vines are running in a confused maze above me, and branches have me blocked in. I was so focused on moving forward that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. Now I’m wondering 2 things; how did I get in here and how will I get out?
Two hours later, (yes two hours!) I am covered in sweat, my arms & legs look like I’ve been clawed by a cat, and this bird is still at bay. We were planning a bike ride, so shorts & t-shirt are the attire. Not the best for trekking through “natural Florida” at its worst.
I finally give up and yell “I’m going home!!!………and putting on some pants and boots”. I briefly thought of just driving away and not telling her where I was going, but I decided to behave.
10 minutes later I return, a new man; old thick jeans, hiking boots, and ice cold water. Bring me this bird!! Like Godzilla stomping through Tokyo, I stomp my way through the brush. Path? I don’t need a path. We force the vulture toward an open area and finally corner it between us.
She is on one side and I’m on the other. The only way out is by one of us and we’re ready with towels and eager anticipation. It moves right and we move right, it moves left and we move left.
It moves right again and I move right but….this time it pulls up short and darts left. Oh no, he faked me out!!! I quickly recover but it’s too late.
2 quick steps and it’s out of my reach and then get this; it takes flight!! It lands about a block away. As it looks back, I swear it’s laughing.
I’m hot, sweaty, scratched, hungry, and thirsty. I’m done!! I lean against truck reflecting on the events that just unfolded when she heads to where it landed. “If it was that seriously injured, it would not have been able to fly away” I yell.
5 minutes later, she victoriously parades out with the big bird in both hands. I spit out my water in disbelief. We put it into the carrier and headed off to our local wildlife hospital.
It was treated, brought up to healthy weight, and then released back into the wild. I still laugh about that story and what we went through. Each time I see a vulture flying over, I can’t help but look up and wonder; does it remember the time……..