One Friday in December we received a call from e resident of the Cheval neighborhood in Lutz about a vulture in trouble. It was reported that this black vulture had been shot not once but twice with arrows and had spent that last couple of days in the same field. We dispatched a volunteer to assess the situation and attempt to catch the bird. Upon arrival she was able to confirm that the vulture had been shot and was in immediate need of care. While the arrows prohibited him from flying he was still able to run rather fast and gave our volunteer a run for her money. Thanks to her persistence she was able to finally get the bird crated up and notify law enforcement. She quickly transported the bird to Blue Pearl Veterinary Service of Tampa where they were met by Officer H. Caldwell from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Working with the staff at Blue Pearl we were able to remove the arrows and stabilize the bird. As this vulture was not the first that we had been called due to being shot with arrows, but the first we were able to get hands on and recover the arrows it sparked media attention. The story aired on both WFLA Channel 8 and ABC Action News and asked people to contact FWC if they had any information regarding who may be responsible for this crime.
The next day the vulture was transferred to the Veterinary staff at Busch Gardens Tampa. While the bird was in stable condition we all agreed that a trip to see the Wildlife Docs was in store to take a closer look at what damage was done as one arrow was removed from near its head and the other in the region of his shoulder. Dr. Maria decided to place metal feeding tubes in the cleaned out wounds and take a series of x-rays to see exactly what the arrows hit. It was determined that this bird was the luckiest vulture in the world! The arrow that entered from the top of his right wing traveled right along a path of soft tissue and exited through his chest hitting nothing vital and did no damage to his bones, tendons, or ligaments. The arrow that made its way through the vultures head managed to travel right behind his skull and miss his major veins and arteries, trachea, crop and spinal cord. That day our volunteer who had yet to leave his side on this journey decided to name him Vader because of his resilience and dark nature. He was sent back with the Owl’s Nest team to receive care while his wounds healed.
After completing his treatment, Vader returned to Busch Gardens for his final recheck. It was determined that while his wounds were healing wonderfully he did have a minor loss in his range on motion in his right wing. It was unclear if this was going to hinder his ability to fly and survive in the wild so he was sent to our friend and fellow permitted rehabilitator and falconer Rick Foley at Rick’s Raptor Rescue to be flight tested. Rick provided Vader with three chances to prove he was ready and able to go, but Vader was a beautiful failure. It was determined that while he had great form and the minor loss in motion was not a hinder but rather his loss in muscle mass. It was unclear how long he had been grounded before he was spotted by the good Samaritan who reported him but he was clearly feeling the effects of not being able to use his chest muscles for some time. That evening he was sent up to our sister facility in Homosassa, Nature’s World Wildlife Rescue, where he could spend time in a large flight cage with several other recovering vultures and rebuild his strength.
After about a week it was reported that Vader was making repeated full flights from perch to perch in the flight cage which is approximately 40 feet.
A few days later the same volunteer who had rescued Vader went up to bring Vader home for release. We spoke with the park rangers at Upper Tampa Bay Park and were given permission to release him there where he would be safe and free from the fear of being shot again. Immediately after Vader was released we met up with Officer H. Caldwell and A. Wise who had investigated the shooting and we received more great news! The individual who shot Vader had been caught and was being held responsible thanks to a tip from someone in the neighborhood.
Vader was one lucky bird and his case reminded us how blessed we are to be able to work with a strong team of highly qualified people. Without the assistance of law enforcement, our cooperating vets and are fellow federally permitted rehabbers Vader’s story would not have the happy ending that it does. We encourage you to go and visit Upper Tampa Bay Park and walk the trails to see if you can spot Vader. He will be easy to identify for the next few weeks since he still has a bald spot the right side of his chest where one of the arrows exited.
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble please make sure you report it to a licensed rescue organization like Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We also ask that you consider making a donation to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife so that we may continue our work to conserve and protect wildlife in the Tampa Bay Area.