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Clifton couple helps save turkey vulture

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CLIFTON - Deanna and Bill Reed may live in the quiet Penobscot County town of Clifton but their home is always abuzz with company. Night after night, flocks of turkey vultures gather in the couple's back yard and hang out in their trees. It's a visit the Reeds have always looked forward to - until earlier this month, when they looked out their window and saw one of their feathered friends stuck upside down high above the ground.

"It was the day we had that unexpected snowstorm with freezing rain," said Deanna Reed. "Bill noticed they were hanging lower than normal. He looked up and saw one hanging upside down. And he was stuck by his tail. We couldn't figure out how he was stuck, but there must've been a crack in the branch that he got his tail stuck in."

As hard as they tried, the couple just couldn't free the bird. 

"He was about 60 feet up off the ground and we couldn't cut the tree down because of where it was located," said Reed. "It was just awful because we could see him but couldn't get to him."

So they began calling for help. They reached out to a game warden first but didn't have any luck. Next they contacted Avian Haven in Freedom. The nonprofit is a wild bird rehabilitation center dedicated to returning injured or orphaned birds back into their natural habitat. Executive Director Diane Winn was eager to assist in the rescue.

"We have occasionally been involved with rescues of birds stuck in trees, but never without the bird being tangled in something like kite string, fishing or balloon line," said Winn. 

Despite numerous efforts, though, the vulture remained lodged right where he was that entire day.

"The next morning, I looked out the window and he wasn't moving. I got on the computer and sent Diane an email and said he'd passed on and she said she half expected that because of the weather," said Reed. "Then I looked again and he moved his wings, so I went back to computer and said, 'He's not dead.'"

Winn didn't wait for another email. She sent word to Avian Haven's Infirmary Manager Marc Payne as well as Unity professor and experienced tree climber Brent Bibles that the bird was still hanging on. The two raced to Clifton with climbing gear and a cage in hand.

"They drove in our dooryard and all of a sudden the bird flew out of the tree and into an older tree where he fell to the ground. They scooped him up and gave him a syringe of pain meds. Brent never even had to climb the tree," said Reed. "It was so strange that he'd become free all of a sudden when help came."

The turkey vulture is still at Avian Haven today, where he is being treated for a broken tail and foot wound. 

"Most of the damage was to the bird's tail feathers, which were twisted, frayed and broken. We were able to repair it using a technique called imping where basically the damaged feathers are cut and then intact feathers from a cadaver bird are splinted onto the base of the original feathers. In time those feathers will molt and be replaced by new natural feathers," said Winn. "The small wound on one foot may or may not have been made by one of the bird's own talons in his struggle to free himself from the tree. The area around it is swollen and we are keeping an eye on it for signs of infection."

Weeks later, Reed remains in awe of all the people who rallied together to help save her unlucky house guest.

"It's just a common turkey vulture, but the people at Avian Haven were the ones who bent over backwards to save this bird," said Reed.

For more information on Avian Haven, log on to www.avianhaven.org.

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 22:45

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