Imprinting is the process by which an animal's understanding of its role as a species member is determined. Birds, particularly have a very small window of time in which they are influenced by the individuals around them. Birds surrounded by nestmates and parents of their own species identify with their own species, and later in life this will help them in understanding who to choose as a mate, which other birds to associate with and basically helps the bird to “fit in” with its fellow birds. When people raise a bird by itself, normal imprinting cannot take place, and the bird identifies with humans. It will always seek out humans, never find a mate, and will never have a normal bird social life. For a very social bird like a vulture, this is a huge problem.
We explained to the residents and management of the trailer park what was happening, that no one was in danger, and that the bird was protected by federal law. Several people were talking about killing the bird. We talked them out of it. Things settled down. Until....
Two months later we started to get more phone calls from City Animal Care Services, the city police department, and more concerned members of the public. Our vulture friend had changed his scene of operations and was now in the city of Columbus. He was still chasing children, untying shoelaces, and generally being a nuisance in playgrounds, and schoolyards. In some cases, he was looking in schoolroom windows at the children for a portion of the day. Animal Care Services was thwarted. He recognized the Animal Care Services officers and flew away when they approached. He knew them with or without the Animal Care Services van, or if they wore civilian clothes. Finally, a member of the Utopia staff managed to catch him one day while he was playing with kids at recess at a local school. He had been slowly starving! The average turkey vulture flies 40-50 miles or so a day in order to find enough carrion to survive, but this bird was used to being fed by people, and was not spending time looking for food. He came to Utopia, and is now happy and well nourished.
Because he is imprinted on people, he will always want to be around humans, and may well be harmed by them. He is non-releasable, but we have obtained State and Federal education and possession permits so that he can educate people about these amazing birds and why it is wrong to try to raise baby birds. Now Parker, as we've named him, will be able to see the kids he loves from inside the classroom!