By Michele DeLuca firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Turkey vultures are not particularly elegant birds. On the ground, their red heads that make them look a bit like the ungainly birds that headline at Thanksgiving — thus, the name. Plus vultures mostly scavenge for dead meat that somebody else has killed so that doesn’t enhance their status.
But watching one released at the edge of the Niagara Gorge this past Monday, it’s expansive wings sweeping gracefully through a perfect blue sky, was a dramatic and breathtaking sight for a handful of humans who had worked together to save the bird from the brink of death.
Likely a full-grown male, although only a DNA test could say for sure, it was found by a pair of Canisius College students walking through the woods in North Boston, last month.
Phil Shore, 19, of Kenmore, and his girlfriend, Katlin Griffin, 19, of Cheektowaga, had been walking on land owned by Shore’s family. Just off the trail, Shore spotted what looked to him like a big dead bird. When the pair walked over to look more closely at the creature — which was trapped by its legs in an illegal trap set by a poacher — it blinked.
Startled by the signs of life, the pair moved quickly to get help. Shore called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the responding officer, Michael Mazurkiewicz, contacted Campbell Environmental Center, founded by Town of Tonawanda resident Tim O’Day. The center, located in O’Day’s home in North Boston, is a healing center for avian species and especially birds of prey.
O’Day said it was amazing that the bird was found it the isolated location, and added that the bird would have suffered greatly if not saved by the pair.
“The chances of their finding it was like finding a needle in a haystack,” O’Day said. “It would have suffered a million deaths, just laying there, waiting to be eaten by a coyote or starving to death. Eventually it would have bled to death. Either way it was doomed.”
The rescued bird suffered from dehydration, had an infection in its legs. O’Day and the center’s director, Charles Dishaw, drove the bird to a veterinarian in Jamestown, Dr. William Seleen, who volunteers his services for birds of prey. It spent a month healing under the care of Dishaw, O’Day and O’Day’s grandson, Tom Laska, 14.
On Monday, at Artpark, the trio from the center and the young couple who saved the bird, set it free with an awe-inspiring release into the sky above the Niagara Gorge, framed by the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge in the distance. As the bird swooped to freedom, other turkey vultures circled the sky as if waiting for the newest member of their flock, or “kettle” as vultures in flight are called.
“I’m just glad we got him out of there,” said Katlin, who is majoring in animal behavioral science. “I feel that’s a terrible way to catch any type of animal.”
“It felt good,” added Shore. “It was a good thing to do.”