photo of baby turkey vulture, all black feathers, with red face, partial red beak, with white at tip of the beak

Celebrating the Life of Turkey Vulture Baby

The Zoo celebrates the life of turkey vulture, Baby, who was rescued from the wild in 1988. She passed on last Wednesday, March 24, 2021, after more than 30 years at the Zoo as an ambassador animal. During her life, Baby helped educate hundreds of thousands of children who have visited the Zoo, proudly showing off her incredible wingspan to camps, community programs and even those just having a casual stroll through the plaza. She was a very special bird to our visitors, zoo keepers, and our education team and volunteers who worked with her regularly. Here are just a couple of stories about Baby below.

Photo by Marcelle Gianelloni

From Zoo Keeper Dana Prior

“Baby was a character! Throughout my years with her, she taught me much about how to read a bird’s behavior. She was mischievous and intelligent; those qualities together can be a challenge for a keeper — and she kept us on our toes.

I will always remember the sounds of excitement and the wows from our guests whenever they saw Baby, either from an appearance in a classroom or a stroll on the Zoo’s plaza. She touched many people over her 30+ years; she was always an impressive sight to behold.  Her love of a good sunbeam brought a smile to all who witnessed her stretch out those impressive wings to soak up the heat. Many guests mentioned they had never noticed turkey vultures flying overhead in the wild until they met Baby – which was a connection we always loved to hear.

In her interactions with guests, many misconceptions about vultures were discussed.  Many were surprised to learn how useful a vulture is in our ecosystem.  Vultures recycle dead animals to help keep our environment clean.  They also have a keen sense of smell. Most birds rely on sight to find food but not turkey vultures!  If you looked closely at Baby, you could see her beak had a hole all the way through it to allow odors to pass through.

Guests would always comment on how lovely her features were or how pretty her iridescent feathers were on a closer view.  And that is the key to the Zoo’s mission: seeing an animal in person helps us to appreciate and to learn.  Many thanks to Baby for so many years of teaching all of us how beautiful and important turkey vultures truly are. She (and her antics) will be greatly missed.”

Dawn and Baby at Belknap Festival

Docent – Dawn Riester

“I worked with Baby during the last 10 years of her life. She was a very intelligent bird and would let you know very quickly where you stand in her graces. I really did love showing her to guests because she was quite impressive. I don’t think people realize the beauty of a turkey vulture until they see one up close.  Their feathers really glow in the sunshine and Baby just loved to spread her 6 ft. wingspan.  She was a wonderful ambassador for her species and taught a lot of people the value and versatility of the turkey vulture.

One of my favorite memories is when we were cleaning enclosures and we had some additional smelt. For enrichment, we put them in Baby’s water bowl.  It was a rather large rubber bowl and it looked like the smelt were swimming around in there.  She was fascinated with this and played with them for the duration of the time we were there. Eventually, she must have realized that they weren’t alive and weren’t worth playing with anymore, because they were gone the next day.”