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Spotlight: Where’s that lucky bird?

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Robin White Photo The injured Turkey Vulture on his way to Roswell.

A hit and run ended up as a rescue mission for a protected migratory bird

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

May 23 turned out to be an unlucky day for one hungry turkey vulture if it wouldn’t have been for pet rescue transport volunteer Robin White, who volunteers at Peace of Mind Rescue of New Mexico, a nonprofit organization specializing in saving animals from high-kill shelters. She was on the road to Roswell to pick up 32 cats from the Roswell Animal Shelter when she saw in the distance a car hitting a vulture. The driver didn’t stop, but she did.

White shared the event as it happened on the Facebook group page, Critters of New Mexico, where she usually shared her encounters with New Mexico wildlife and occasionally the removal of a horned lizard — also known as horny toads — from bicycle trails. “This is a first,” she wrote about the vulture, whom she had first put on the passenger’s seat of her car before carefully moving the dazed bird into a cat carrier.

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Submitted Photo
Rescue transporter Robin White is seen here with one of the 33 kittens that get transported to Santa Fe. The organization Peace of Mind Pet Rescue saves animals from kill-shelters.

After arriving in Roswell, White was available for an interview on Facebook Messenger before returning to Santa Fe with the rescued cats. “I’m from Roanoke, Virginia,” she wrote. “I started in rescue by sheer happenstance. A really good friend of mine from back home needed a short transport of a couple of dogs. About two hours to a rescue and back home. I did it. I fell in love instantly. I’ve fostered blind, deaf, senior (animals). That was over 12 years ago. I had to stop for a while. I got really sick. A rare heart condition, but I got a pacemaker and started traveling for work again: Across the U.S. and back again. I was visiting a close friend in Albuquerque in December 2018. I fell in love with New Mexico. I was paying attention to rescue groups in this state. They’re in dire need of transporters — very few of us here. I started volunteering as soon as I could. At last count, it’s now over 100 dogs and cats saved — and a vulture.”

White left the wounded vulture with the animal shelter who told her that they would contact the zoo. However, the zoo could not take the animal as it was a protected migrant bird so employees of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish had been contacted to pick the bird up. Tristanna Bickford is the communication director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. In a phone interview on May 27, she said that the vulture was a turkey vulture and fortunately it had recovered from his collision with the vehicle. Bickford said that the bird was actually doing so well that it could be released back into nature, which had taken place earlier in the day northeast of Roswell. Hopefully, the vulture learned his lesson to stay clear of the traffic. However, he does have an important job to do — most likely that was how he got hurt: Vultures are the cleaning crew of the desert — and the highway — any killed animals become food for the misunderstood bird.

The turkey vulture may not look as pretty as an eagle, though its wingspan is just as big. When the turkey vultures return in spring from Latin and South America, soaring over the northeast part of Roswell, locals know that winter is over.

Unfortunately for the turkey vulture, it gets occasionally mistaken for the black vulture, one of the few vultures who actually may attack and kill newborn cattle. The turkey vulture only lives off of dead animals, but may be found near the black vultures to wait and see if there are leftovers they can clean up. Also, there is still false information spread that says turkey vultures carry anthrax or hog cholera, which is a danger to livestock — this is not the case. Even if turkey vultures consume meat from infected animals, the virus gets destroyed as soon as it passes through the bird’s digestive tract. Too bad that humans don’t have this natural defense system.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the U.S., by the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada, and by the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals in Mexico, it is illegal to take, kill or possess turkey or black vultures, and violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.

The Turkey Vulture Society has some good tips on its website, (turkeyvulturesociety.wordpress.com) to discourage vultures roosting too close to humans.

When White heard that her winged “rescue” was a protected species, she said that she was very happy to hear that it survived. “I’ve had animals give birth during transport, die on me, (urinate), blood, sweat and tears. I swear, rescue makes you lose your mind, but you will most definitely find your soul. I’m extremely blessed to know some amazing rescuers. Hardcore, bad— and amazing women. Those are my own personal heroes. I’m humbled just to stand by their sides,” she said.

For more information about the rescue organization, visit peaceofmindrescueofnm.org or its Facebook page. For more information about the turkey vulture, visit bison-n.org or pwconserve.org.