Ralph the Vulture’s Journey to Teatown

Ralph the Vulture’s Journey to Teatown

Here’s the story of how Ralph, our newest ambassador, made it all the way from being injured on a roadside in Pennsylvania to serving as an ambassador for his species at Teatown.

“Ralph” is a young turkey vulture that was admitted to Tamarack Wildlife and Educational Center in November 2017, after being found emaciated on a local roadside. Upon examination, it was discovered that in addition to being very thin he had a fracture already in the process of healing. Unfortunately the fracture healed in a way that prevented him to soar, which is key to a turkey vulture’s survival in the wild. Although deemed non-releasable his caretakers recognized that this young vulture had all the makings of a great educational animal; calm around people, curious and food-motivated. Tamarack began the process of finding him a placement.

And this is where Ralph’s path begins to cross with Teatown! One day while Lisa Kelly (Teatown’s Animal Care Supervisor) was taking a break, she saw Ralph’s photo and description on a website for educational animals in need of placement. After consultation with Tamarack’s staff and considering Teatown’s aging vultures, it was decided that Ralph could play an important role in educating the public about his species at Teatown.

Acquiring a new bird takes planning and paperwork! While waiting on permits and approval of transfer from the state and federal government, our next hurdle to overcome was having a place for Ralph until he could be introduced into his permanent home.

And then an opportunity knocked! Teatown’s off-exhibit bird mew was in desperate need of a facelift. Regeneron offered volunteers and a donation to help us rebuild the mew. Time was short but Teatown staff and the volunteers were able to tear down the old mew and construct the walls of the new mew in 1 day! After a few more days of hard work by the maintenance staff, we had a temporary home ready for Ralph.

On Friday April 27th before the sun came up Lisa was on the road to pick up our newest ambassador. After meeting the wonderful staff that had been caring for him, Lisa was finally able to meet him. Ralph was curious but cautious of Lisa which was understandable; vultures are very smart and recognize individual people. During the seven hour trip back to Teatown there was concern that Ralph would be uncomfortable and stressed. Driving along, the only sound from Ralph was him rousing in the crate. Birds rouse when they are resettling their feathers to settle in. This was a great sign that the car ride wasn’t causing stress or discomfort.

Ralph’s first night at Teatown was spent in the crate he traveled in and the next morning he was introduced to his new mew, where he found a place to spread his wings and sun himself.

As you can see a lot of time and effort go into bringing a new animal ambassador to Teatown. We strive to make sure we have everything in place for them to thrive once they are here. “Operant conditioning training” will soon begin so that he will be able to visit the public to teach about how awesome and vital vultures are! Operant conditioning is the basis of animal training—it is a type of learning in which an animal learns (or, is conditioned) from its behaviors as it acts (operates) on the environment.

Keep on the lookout for Ralph – in a few months he will be ready to join Walter and Edgar on the raptor loop. He’ll be the youngster sporting a red head!

About Lisa Kelly

Having grown up exploring nature with her grandparents, it was no surprise that Lisa ended up working with animals. She has been at Teatown taking care of the animals for 10 years, and a wildlife rehabilitator for 5 years. At any given time, Lisa is caring for 30-40 animals including birds of prey, turtles, snakes, bunnies, spiders, opossums and more.

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