Saying Goodbye to Buttercup the Black Vulture

The Wildlife Center is deeply saddened to announce the death of Buttercup the Black Vulture on October 31, 2020. He was 16 years old.

Buttercup hatched in captivity at the Maymont Nature Center in Richmond in 2004. His parents would not care for him, so he was transferred to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. Unfortunately, Buttercup imprinted on his human caregiver during that period – something that young vultures do easily if not in the care of their parents. Without a species-specific sense of who he was, and without an appropriate fear of humans, he was unable to be released to the wild. Buttercup came to live at the Wildlife Center in September 2011.

While some people might think vultures are gross and unappealing, Buttercup won the hearts of thousands of visitors during his nine years at the Center. He was a mainstay of every Open House tour, field trip, and visit to the Center during this time, appearing in more than 730 programs and meeting more than 21,000 children and adults.

Buttercup came to the Center with a name and with the assumption that the vulture was female. A subsequent DNA test revealed that she was indeed a he.   But … somehow … Buttercup seemed an appropriate name for this playful, inquisitive, and engaging bird.

Buttercup was quite often found at the front of his enclosure, watching his visitors just as intently as they were watching him. He often preened, played “peek-a-boo”, and occasionally even tossed rocks back and forth; he often “protested” when tour groups would move on to see another education ambassador. Many people were surprised to find themselves so enamored with a vulture, but Buttercup quickly became one of the more popular ambassador birds at the Center. Open houses were his favorite times of the year.

His huge personality also endeared Buttercup to his Wildlife Center co-workers, many of whom enjoyed just stopping by his enclosure to say hi. His human handlers — former outreach coordinator Raina, outreach coordinator Alex, and outreach educator Lauren — were each able to build a relationship with Buttercup and greatly loved their time interacting and working with him.

Goodbye, Buttercup, and rest in peace. You’ll be greatly missed by all who knew you.

Addendum: A full necropsy and histopathology was performed on Buttercup to see if a cause of death could be determined. There were no significant findings, and cause of death could not be determined.