April 23, 2009, by Keith Bildstein, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, PA
Trapping Turkey Vultures is not always easy. At least not near Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Although we have caught and tagged more than 400 Turkey Vultures in northeastern Venezuela, together with 50 additional vultures in the Falkland Islands, catching vultures near the Sanctuary remains an all-too elusive endeavor. Having caught fewer than 20 here during more than six years of effort is frustrating to say the least. And it hasn’t been because we haven’t tried.
Two years ago my good friend and capable colleague Alfonso Godino, an experienced trapper from Spain, managed to catch just a handful of vultures, most of them Blacks, during the early autumn of 2008, and this year Carmen Calero, another experienced trapper with considerable successful trapping experience in South Africa, is trying to do so again. Carmen, a Spring Intern at the Sanctuary, has been working hard for three weeks now, but only two vultures have been caught and tagged so far.
Our efforts near Hawk Mountain are aimed at achieving two goals. The first is to lean more about the movement ecology of Turkey Vultures in eastern Pennsylvania. The second, and equally important, goal is to provide a source of wing-tagged vultures for our Raptor Challenge education program, which is teaching local school children about raptors and their conservation threats. The idea behind the latter is that if school children visiting the Sanctuary get to see tagged vultures at Hawk Mountain, they will become champions of the birds andtheir conservation needs.
We have yet to figure out why vultures are so difficult to catch near the Sanctuary, but are our major concern is that food may be the problem…. too much food that is. Road-killed animals including Grey Squirrels, Virginia Opossums, Ground Hogs, Raccoons and White-tailed Deer are all-too-common in our part of the world, and chicken farms south and west of the Sanctuary also provide readily predictable sources of carrion in the form of dead chickens.
So what’s a trapper to do?
Carmen, persistent as she has been, hasn’t seen many vultures flying over her trap site this past week. And not seeing lots of vultures in the air is not a good thing for a trapper. But not to worry, we haven’t given up yet, nor do we intend to do so. In fact, we are about to move on to Plan B… which involves setting up additional trap sites in the hope of catching few dozen vultures before the summer trapping season ends.
Potentially frustrating as all of this is, working with a field team that includes Hawk Mountain Research Biologist David Barber and Spring Intern Carmen Calero makes all this an opportunity to learn, rather than what could be a seemingly endless string of frustrating days. Sometime soon will figure all of this out, and when we do I will be back in touch with news of our success.