Saturday, May 11, 2019

Ogden's Egg

by Anna Morris
Lead Environmental Educator

It’s been a hectic spring at VINS. The Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation’s ongoing renovations meant we have had to move some of our education birds from their accustomed aviaries to other enclosures temporarily. Change can be stressful, so we were closely monitoring the behavior of our oldest, most “entrenched” resident, a 38-year-old Turkey Vulture named Ogden. With VINS since 2002, but retired from demonstrations in 2018, we thought Ogden would have the hardest time with the sudden move.   

Ogden the Turkey Vulture (Anna Morris)
The last thing any of us expected was that she would embrace the change so thoroughly.

“Bren to Education Team,” came a radio call from the Wildlife Keeper last Saturday afternoon.

“Go ahead?”

“I think…I think Ogden laid an egg.”

Sitting in our offices, the educators poked our heads out into the middle of the room, then simultaneously bolted off towards the Education Bird Mews, where Ogden is housed.

There, Bren cradled in his hand a 4 inch long cream-colored, speckled egg, weighing nearly 3 ounces. It was lightly pointed toward one end, the shape of egg laid by birds that fly over long distances (like vultures).

We all stared at the egg, then took turns holding it. It was cool to the touch—Ogden had evidently not been incubating it since it was laid, and it would not have been fertile anyway (she hasn’t even seen a male Turkey Vulture in at least 20 years). The predominant emotions in the room were joy at her accomplishment, and confusion at her motivation. After so many years, why now?

Ogden's egg (Anna Morris)
When she was found injured on the side of the road in Ogden, UT in 1981, Ogden’s right wing fracture had already begun to heal. It had formed a callous, and had set in the wrong position, leaving the rehabilitators treating her pessimistic about her recovery, and Ogden unable to fully extend the wing, grounding her permanently. She was placed as an education ambassador first at Wildlife Experiences in Rapid City, SD, and then transferred to VINS in 2002.

This is the first spring that Ogden was retired from programs, an activity which likely prevented her, in her mind, from having the time and energy to start a family. She also, for the first time, has a rather low, wedge-shaped platform in her enclosure, which perhaps seems like a cave, a place where Turkey Vultures would naturally nest. Birds do not experience menopause or reproductive senescence, and so can go on laying eggs right up until the end of their lives. The oldest known wild bird of any species, a Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, continues to lay an egg every year on Midway Atoll even at 68 years of age.

At a minimum age of 38, Ogden is not even the oldest Turkey Vulture. A male Turkey Vulture named Lord Richard lives at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek, CA, and is 45 years old this year. But this longevity only belies the dangers vultures face in the wild. The oldest known Turkey Vulture who lived its whole life as a wild bird was found dead at age 16. Hit by cars as they forage for roadkill, electrocuted on improperly configured power-lines, hit by wind turbines, and poisoned by people who don’t understand the importance of scavengers, vultures in the wild need our help often, and live longer lives when they are shielded from these dangers.

Show your support for vultures like Ogden by slowing down when scavengers are near the road, switching to non-lead ammunition for hunting, and picking up plastic waste in the environment. They just need a little appreciation!