A wildlife rehabilitator friend, newly licensed, recently called to ask if he could feed a recovering Turkey Vulture anything besides defrosted rodents.

Well! Did I have an answer for him.

Normally I feed vultures, as well as hawks and owls, defrosted mice and rats. Sometimes a defrosted chick. Occasionally I’ll give one a defrosted quail, which I have to order for the accipiters and peregrines who can be annoyingly picky; but quail are expensive, so I don’t do it often. I get everything in big bags, already frozen, that way I only have to feel second-hand guilt.

Vultures, as a whole, are great patients: they’ll eat anything. They do eat rotting food in the wild, but given the choice they’d prefer it fresh. Roadkill is doable, though some rehabbers think it’s chancy to feed anything you’re not positive was healthy before it met its maker. But if you’re inundated with carnivores and desperate for food, what can you do? I have a rehabber friend who has perfected the Drive-by Roadkill Fling, in which she cruises toward whatever’s in the middle of the road, opens her door, leans out, grabs a leg, whips it into the back of her flatbed, then continues on her way.

In any case: joining the already-packaged food items in my freezer are wild birds who didn’t make it. As long as they had no drugs in their system, and as long as they weren’t touched by a cat (and thus contaminated with salmonella/pasteurella/Bartonella, etc.) or were diseased, they go in the freezer, and eventually become food for a recovering raptor. My mammal-rehabber friends give me their unfortunates, as well.

So: a broken-winged vulture came in. He ate through my remaining supply of rats and mice, as well as all my pinkies (hairless, day-old rodents, easily digestible and good for starvation cases). He ate my last quail. He then ate a screech owl, a robin, two squirrels, a mourning dove, three chipmunks, and a rabbit. My scheduled rodent pick-up day wasn’t for another two weeks, so I called my friends at the local zoo and begged for help.

“Sure!” they said, “come on over and we’ll give you as much as you need.” But I was on a work deadline, so by the time I arrived at the zoo the vulture had eaten several pork chops and some very nice free-range chicken.

“Yes,” I said to my friend, “there’s some other stuff you can feed him.”

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.