I was at the Chattahoochee Nature Center for a couple of hours with a friend on April 14th. As we approached the cage where one turkey vulture and two black vultures are housed (because they cannot be released into the wild after rehabilitation), one of the black vultures came right up to the front of the cage and started walking back and forth and poking its bill out toward us through the wire. It kept at it for some time, and sometimes alit and walked up on one of the small diagonal branches in the cage. It also opened and closed its beak and made some vocalizations that sounded like a quiet woof. After a while, we bade farewell to it before we headed off to one of the ponds.
Upon our return to the cage, the black vulture was up on top of the cage, and I made some clicking sounds and said, "C'mere, pretty vulture." And guess what: it did! And it climbed back up on the branch and at one point, pictured above, climbed right onto the wire of the cage, as if wanting to reinforce the interaction it was having with us by climbing up to our eye level. It didn't stay there long, and the light conditions were horrible, which is why the shot is so lousy, but I thought you'd be interested in the story. Who knew a black vulture would seek human companionship? We nicknamed it "Ebony."
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I went back to the CNC on May 30th for a very quick visit, and when I got to the cage, Ebony was on a top perch. I clicked like one does when asking a horse to get into a faster gait (which I haven't done for decades, alas), and sure enough, down came Ebony to socialize and, yes, play.

In this shot, I did a quick clone-out of the bars of the cage.

Not only did Ebony come and immediately start playing with objects outside the cage but he also would sit on his haunches and take some of the vegetation in his beak and move his head from side to side and up and down, twisting it around his beak. He also played with one of his or his cage mates' big black feathers by taking it in his beak and tossing it in the air and chasing after it. Then, when I held my hand over my head and snapped my fingers, he flew onto the cage again, as he had the last time I was there, as if he knew exactly what I wanted him to do. The children who happened to be standing at the cage were astonished. So was I.

So much so that I called the nature center and spoke to the wildlife director. I wondered if staff had found the bird to be so friendly and playful, too. Kathryn Dudeck told me that this Black vulture is indeed so sociable because he was imprinted on humans when he was a nestling taken from his nest (on the ground) by a park ranger who thought he was rescuing the bird by keeping him and feeding him. Instead, the bird, now imprinted, could not be released into the wild, so the nature center has the responsibility of keeping him alive and well. The other Black vulture in the cage, a 41-year-old female, is the oldest Black vulture in captivity in the U.S., having hatched in 1970. The other bird sharing the cage is a Turkey vulture that arrived at the nature center in 1989 with nerve damage to her right wing, making her unable to fly.

Feeding just the three vultures costs the nature center twelve dollars a day. If you are so inclined, you may make a donation to the Chattahoochee Nature Center. In addition to the rehab-and-release work they do for many types of birds and animals, the wildlife staff cares for non-releasable birds such as Barred owls, Red-tailed hawks, Bald eagles, etc.

*Note: The nature center does not name its critters; Ebony is the name my friend and I gave him.

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