A turkey vulture that was found trapped under a dead seal on Brier Island last December was released back into the wild Saturday.
“[We] watched him take off over the lake and he just flew forever,” said Hope Swinimer, the founder of Hope for Wildlife. “It was really nice to see. Really nice.”
The bird was rescued 11 months ago by Jeff Gratto and Robert Galbraith. They were exploring the island after a storm.
“Surprising to both of us, we noticed an adult turkey vulture pinned under the seal,” Galbraith wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “It had been eating the seal and a wave must have pushed the seal onto the vulture, trapping it.”
When they approached the animal, the bird shockingly opened its eyes.
That’s when the men went into rescue mode. Gratto used a piece of wood he found nearby to lift the body of the seal and free the large bird trapped under it.
The bird was gently placed into a cardboard box and then transported 325 kilometres to the rehabilitation clinic in Seaforth, a small community east of Halifax.
That’s where the bird has been ever since.
Swinimer said she didn’t know if he was going to make it when it arrived at the clinic. He had extensive feather damage that can take up to two years to heal.
“He was very wild and very cranky,” she said. “The hardest part of his rehabilitation was getting those feathers to grow.
“He was a very stressful patient and he was not happy in captivity, so when you combine that with trying to get his feathers to be pristine, it wasn’t always easy to find the perfect habitat where he wasn’t going to damage feathers.”
But after nearly a year, Swinimer was confident about releasing him back into the wild.
The team at Hope for Wildlife had planned to return the bird to Brier Island but after trying to catch him to drive him to his original home, he wouldn’t budge.
“We were having a really difficult time actually catching him to give him his freedom,” she said. “And finally we decided, just because of the stress and the well-being of the bird, that we would just open the flight cage door and that worked beautifully.”
Swinimer said about 15 staff and volunteers said goodbye to the turkey vulture and watched him take flight Saturday morning.
“He was doing so beautifully,” she said. “He was doing flips and he was catching the wind and he wasn’t showing any signs of being exhausted or tired.”
Swinimer said there are about eight other turkey vultures in the Seaforth area and the bird might just stick around.
She said although it was a bittersweet goodbye, she’s happy the team was able to rehabilitate the bird and send him back into the wild.
“It was wonderful. I couldn’t have been better.”