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Lodger sends family on a scavenger hunt
North Stafford family trying to get help for a vulture, believed to be wounded, that's hanging out in their yard

 This black vulture has taken up residence in the backyard and in the open woodshed of the Hodge family of North Stafford. The family suspects that the bird is injured and can't fly. They hope to get the bird to a rehabilitator.
photos by PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 2/1/2013

By CATHY DYSON

Of all the yards a black vulture might land in, this bird chose a home with a church cemetery behind it.

The property also has a small wooden cross near the tree line that marks the final resting place of Hammy the Hamster.

Coincidence?

Or is the creature of death seeking refuge where it's most comfortable, among the graves of others?

The Hodge family of North Stafford believes neither is the case--and that this is no Alfred Hitchcock movie in the making.

Instead, they fear the black bird that bounds through their yard at an awkward but incredibly fast pace has lost its ability to fly.

Isabel Hodge, mother of Andrew, 17, and Allistair, 21, and wife of hunter and retired Marine Bruce, believes the vulture is wounded and wants to get it some help.

But here's the problem.

No matter how vital the vulture's role in the circle of life, people don't exactly rush to the aid of a bird that eats dead stuff on the side of the road. One of the few people trained to help it requires that it be caught and transported first.

And as much as Isabel Hodge wants the bird to be rehabilitated, she's a little nervous about the idea of getting too close to a beak that can break bones.

She's been told the best way to capture a vulture is to toss a blanket over its head, wrap your arm around its chest and keep its beak immobile.

"We're not exactly vulture wrestlers," she said. "I can't see myself jumping on it with a blanket. That would be a trip to the ER."

Andrew Hodge discovered the unusual visitor on Jan. 20, when he went to the woodshed behind the house. There's no door on the shed, and as Andrew reached for some logs, he saw a big, black bird hop down from the rafters onto a pile nearby.

Andrew is 6 feet 4 inches--not exactly petite--and the sudden appearance ruffled his feathers.

"It was pretty dark and scary out there," he said. "I didn't know what kind of bird it was, if it was an angry bird."


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Black vultures are the smaller cousins of turkey vultures, often called buzzards.

While turkey vultures have red heads and dark-brown plumage, black vultures earn their name by their ebony feathers. Adults have wrinkled, dark-gray heads while juveniles have darker heads and smoother skin.

Black vultures tend to stay farther south of the Mason-Dixon line than turkey vultures, although flocks have been seen in northeastern states such as Pennsylvania.

Both vultures are almost as big as eagles with wing spreads as wide as 6 feet. Black ones have short, square tails, and black and turkey vultures alike have bald heads by design.

"A feathery head would capture unwanted pieces of the vulture's meal (just like food can stick in men's beards), along with all the bacteria such pieces would host," according to the Turkey Vulture website. "The bald head is a matter of hygiene for vultures."