Black Vulture #24-1266

May 10, 2024
Rescue Location
Bedford County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Suspected orphan; lead toxicosis
Current Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On May 7, a private citizen found this vulture hatchling on the ground in Bedford County, Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hatchling immediately approached the rescuer and, surprisingly, sat on his foot! A search of the surrounding area did not reveal where the vulture had come from, or any adult vultures nearby. Concerned that the young bird wouldn't survive on its own, the rescuer brought the vulture to the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center; it was transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia a few days later. 

Black vulture hatchling radiograph side view
Black Vulture #24-1266 Radiograph 

Upon admission, the hatching was bright and alert. The veterinary team performed a physical exam and did not find any injuries. However, a lead test revealed sub-clinical levels of lead in the vulture's blood at 0.125 ppm. The hatchling's parents had likely fed it parts of an animal that contained fragments of lead ammunition, or it's possible that the young bird was orphaned and managed to scavenge the meal on its own. Regardless, even at low levels, lead can cause serious neurologic issues, especially in a bird this young. The vet team started the vulture on a course of chelation therapy to remove the lead and plan to recheck lead levels in one week. 

In the meantime, the rehabilitation team is providing supportive care for the hatchling. One of the greatest challenges in caring for young vultures is their tendency to imprint on humans; to ensure this doesn't happen, the rehab staff do not speak and wear face coverings whenever interacting with the bird. They recently captured this video of the vulture eating its daily meal of mice. 

Black vultures fledge at about 10 to 14 weeks old but continue to depend on care from their parents for up to eight months after fledging. For now, the rehab team will continue to care for this hatchling and closely monitor its behavior as it ages. 

Unfortunately, lead toxicosis is a pervasive threat in the environment that this vulture will continue to face even after release. One major source of lead in the environment comes from lead ammunition used by hunters; lead ammunition fragments on impact and any parts left in the field can easily be consumed by scavengers. Check out our wildlife issues page to learn more about lead toxicosis and what you can do to help prevent it.

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Your donation will help provide veterinary medical care to this young vulture and approximately 4,000 other patients that the Wildlife Center will help this year.


Patient Updates

During the past two weeks, Black Vulture #24-1266 has continued to eat well and gain weight, and it has made a new friend – Black Vulture #24-1886! This new vulture nestling came in on June 6 after the barn where it was nesting was destroyed; luckily, the vulture was not injured during the demolition, and the rehab team quickly paired the two young birds together. Check out this video of them interacting with each other! 

With the addition of this new vulture, the likelihood of imprinting on humans is lessened since the birds can interact and learn from each other. The rehab team will continue providing supportive care for the quickly growing birds, but will otherwise stay hands-off.