Friday, June 12, 2015

Day in the Life: Bathing Beauty

At Briar Bush Nature Center, I care for a 2 year old male turkey vulture named Ralph. If you're a regular blog reader, (first of all, thank you) you may remember Ralph from a post I did last March on animal enrichment. Ralph still gets his enrichment in a variety of ways, and on this hot and humid day his enrichment didn't come in the form of food, but water. You think you get hot when it's 93 degrees and humid? Try being a dark brown bird with lots of insulating feathers! 

So today I got out the hose, set it to "gentle shower" (after all, no one likes a vulture with all its feathers blasted off) and sprayed it right on him. Most of the time when I try this, Ralph goes skittering to the nearest form of shelter. But today, I got this:
He was loving it! When he stretches his wings out, he's trying to get as much of his wings wet as possible. And that rowing action  you see him do with his wings is what he would do in a pool of water to throw it all over his body. Essentially you're seeing Ralph say "More! More! More!" with his body language.

Now that I got Ralph soaking wet, he did what vultures enjoy almost as much as roadkill; it was time to bask in the sun. The only problem is that there was no sunlight hitting his cage at the time. That's where I came in! I got him up onto my glove and took him out of his cage into the brightest, sunniest spot I could find.
Those wings immediately spread wide and Ralph got into the sunning zone. You know that look a dog gives you when you scratch their butt? That totally blissed out, half drooling look and they smack their lips just a little? That's the same reaction you get when you put a vulture in the sun. Ralph gets this far off look in his eyes and he smacks his beak just a little, like he's stopping himself from drooling. Vultures live for the sun. It not only feels good, but it kills bacteria on their feathers. Today it felt goooooood.

After a while, I decided to try something new for Ralph, letting him off my glove and onto the railing you see in the background of the above photo. I figured this would be more comfortable than sitting on my small and squishy arm and would give him more freedom to pivot his body for optimal sun absorption. I thought the railing would be a safe place to put him, where he was high enough off the ground that he wouldn't be tempted to try and jump down. I was right! He stepped onto the railing and basked in the sun, all the while taking in the sights of birds flying overhead.
If you have a dog or cat, you likely know its body language fairly well. You know that squinting eyes for a cat or a wagging tail for a dog mean that the animal is content and calm. Birds have body language too that you can read to know they are content and calm. One of those signs is called the rouse, in which a bird vigorously ruffles all their feathers. If a bird has been through something stressful and you see them rouse, you know they have calmed down and are ok. It's always a great sign to see when you work with a bird. After his sunning session, Ralph let out a great big rouse.
That is one giant puffball.

When my cockatiels rouse, often times it's very sudden. But with Ralph, he always works up to it, like a satisfying sneeze: he raises his back feathers ever so slowly...then the rest of his body puffs up...and then like he's rocking out to Taylor Swift, he throws his head back and shakes it off.

Today was a good day to be a vulture.

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