Wildlife Haven staff are taking extra steps while caring for an orphaned baby Turkey Vulture currently in their care. 

Kelly O'Donnell is the fundraising coordinator for the animal hospital and rehabilitation centre in Ile des Chenes. She says turkey vultures are prone to imprinting. 

“Which basically means that they start to believe that humans are their parents,” she explains. “So, a really important part of their care is just making sure that they don't imprint on us while they're in our care in the Animal Hospital.” 

What contributes to imprinting? 

“Turkey Vultures in particular, they really visually focus on whoever their caregiver is,” she explains. “And so, we don't want them to be watching us humans learning how to live and behave from us. We would rather they be able to learn from other Turkey Vultures.” 

O’Donnell says they use a variety of strategies in an effort to keep this raptor as wild as possible. 

“We fully mask up when we go into the enclosure. So, we put on full face covering masks to disguise that we are humans basically. This is tough because Turkey Vultures also have an amazing sense of smell. That's how they hunt for their prey in the wild, and so they actually can imprint on the scent of humans as well.” 

Inside this particular enclosure, they have strategically place photographs of Turkey Vultures. 

“This has a couple of things. Number one, it makes the Turkey Vulture more familiar with what other Turkey Vultures look like. And the second thing is it helps the Turkey Vulture to be more comfortable with moving around and maybe learning how to perch up higher, closer to where those photos are.” 

They also get some help from Leo. 

“He is a wildlife ambassador here, so that means he's a permanent resident,” O’Donnell says. “He was also found, orphaned as a young nestling, several years ago. However, he had imprinted on humans, so he was just too friendly towards humans, and this unfortunately made him unable to be released back to the wild. So now he's a part of our education program and he helps us to teach about Manitoba's native species and how we can peacefully coexist with wildlife. And basically, we take stuff from his enclosure, and it has his scent on it, he's got that adult Turkey Vulture scent, and we put that into this vulture’s enclosure. So at least he gets familiar with those scents instead of our human scents.” 

So far, this young orphan is still showing signs of being a wild animal. 

“It's pretty easy to tell when they're still afraid of you,” O’Donnell explains. “This baby Turkey Vulture, for example, when we go into the enclosure is very afraid of us, which is actually a super positive sign. It has kind of this low, almost like hissing noise that it makes. It's definitely not happy that we're there and it will try to hide, it almost puffs up. It has it's baby feathers still, it hasn't grown its flight feathers yet, but it puffs up. Tries to hide its face, hide behind perches and whatever is in its enclosure, and it does this hissing sound.” 

This young Turkey Vulture became a patient at Wildlife Have about a month ago and it could be a while before he returns to the wild. 

“It was found orphaned near Neepawa,” reports O’Donnell. “It was really dehydrated, covered in mites. Its parents were nowhere to be found so, a concerned citizen brought it to us. We don't get a lot of Turkey Vultures here. We get maybe one admitted to the Animal Hospital per year. So, it's a special patient for us to get here. It seems pretty young still, as far as we can tell. It still has it's fluffy baby feathers and it can take up to a year for them to grow their foot long flight feathers that they need in order to migrate. So it might be a little while before it can be released, but we're hopeful. We're always hopeful we can get them out sooner rather than later just so they have less exposure to us.” 

She notes that as animal lovers, you always want the animal to like you, but actually in these cases, it's so important that these animals are afraid of humans. Staying wild will give the animals the best chance at survival when they are released from the Animal Hospital.

Young owls being fed by staff.Did you know that an essential part of these Long-eared Owls care is preventing them from imprinting on humans? Imprinting is a natural process in which young raptors visually focus on their caregivers, learning how to live and behave. However, when in human care, we must take extra precautions to avoid them imprinting on us. If they become overly dependent on humans, they may lose their ability to survive in the wild, and imprinting is permanent and irreversible. - Wildlife Haven (Photo Credit: Facebook.com/Wildlifehaven.ca)

You can learn more about Wildlife Haven at their annual Open House on September 15th and 16th from 10 am - 3 pm, both days. 

“It’s another great way to support and learn more about how we treat our wildlife patients,” says O’Donnel. 

“We offer full tours of our Animal Hospital and campus, on-site presentations, the opportunity to meet live wildlife ambassadors, and fun interactive activities for kids and adults. It’s a great way to learn more about what we do!” 

Tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased online at wildlifehaven.ca/openhouse. All proceeds go toward caring for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife admitted to our Animal Hospital.

Staff holds an owl mask while feeding young owls.Our team covers their faces and uses owl masks during every feeding, creating a barrier that minimizes the risk of imprinting on humans. This can definitely make feedings a bit more difficult on our end! But one of our main priorities with every wildlife patient is to keep them as wild as possible during their recovery. - Wildlife Haven (Photo Credit: Facebook.com/Wildlifehaven.ca)


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