I spent the morning at RAPTOR doing some Spring Cleaning...
In other words, scrubbing poop out of my carriers and weeding out the moldy pellets from my education box. I sat in the warm sunshine, up to my elbows in Simple Green with owl poop floating in it and I couldn't have been happier.
People who don't work with birds of prey get understandably a bit oogie when I talk about the large amounts of rat guts to be peeled off a perch, the headless mice tucked away in the corner of a cage that must be dug out (some birds like to stash), the glistening puddles of hawk poop that collect at the base of the walls that will only come free with wire brushes.
Oh, and the vulture puke. There's always that.
Long time readers of the blog know Earl, and they also know just what Earl thinks of me.
For the newbies:
Earl is an imprinted 26-year old female Turkey Vulture. Imprints can be either a blessing (they are more than happy to do whatever you want them to, because they are so into you) or they can be a nightmare for the poor dope who has to handle them. Depending on who you talk to, this is what is going on with Earl:
Earl hates blonds.
Earl hates red-heads.
Earl hates women of any hair color.
Earl loves all men.
Earl is incorrigible.
Earl is trainable.
(Any number of people at the center can refute or back up any of those sentiments)
I can only speak from my own experience. In the beginning, (four years now!) Earl and I were buddies. She came along nicely with no crankiness. A few nibbles on my fingers (love bites, if you will) but she behaved.
A little puke, maybe. But that is par for the course working with vultures.
Something happened, though. One day, I went in to get her, sweet-talking as I usually did and offered her my gloved hand. Something snapped in her little bird brain and she attacked me.
Things haven't gotten much better since then.
When Andi, a past volunteer and extremely cool young lady, asked if she could come around on a Saturday while she was in town, I was more than happy to hang with her.
She has done work with Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, Common Black Hawks, and I forget what else.
Oh, yeah. California CONDORS.
So when it was time to put Earl back after a weathering period, she offered to grab a glove and do it.
Well, hell yeah. Keeps me from having to do it.
Other volunteers have been working with Earl doing some special positive reinforcement (Earl loves pinkie mice as a snack), but this was just insane to watch (and awesome, too).
Proof that this is all part of Earl's plan to psyche me out, shake my confidence and generally made me look like a boob:
1. Earl steps gently up to Andi's hand, like a little lady:
And Andi said at one point, "Earl, you're so little!" Of course Earl looks little. This woman handles CONDORS. Who weigh in at about 19 pounds or so, compared to Earl's dinky 4 1/2.
2. As Andi tries to untie the falconer's knot on the perch, Earl keeps her serene composure and acts like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth:
3. Earl stands like the perfect little princess she is as Andi wraps the tether around her hand. And it would NEVER occur to Earl to actually BITE someone, for goodness sake:
4. Andi glides across the uneven driveway like a ballerina with precious Earl spreading her wings in a heraldic pose as her graceful, willing and peaceful partner:
I mean, come on.