How brutal was the weather a couple of weeks back?
So icy, so cold that even hardy turkey vultures were almost frozen solid.
Buffeted by cold rain that froze to their wings as temperatures plummeted, then by a blizzard, and then days of singe-digit temperatures, a number of the big birds were in a bad way.
A Fisher Road resident discovered nearly a dozen of them seeking shelter beneath some shrubs and they appeared to be immobile.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife sent a crew down for a look. Some were able to escape, but five (in this yard and nearby) were too frozen to attempt a getaway.
“When you tried to stretch their wings out, you could hear the ice cracking,” said Zak Mertz, executive director of the Cape Wildlife Center which took in two of the rescued vultures. The other three went to raptor rehabilitator Marla Isaac in Taunton.
Thoroughly thawed out and fed, the vultures returned to Westport in better weather last week.
Their handlers brought them to Macomber School, a busy place for raptor releases of late (just a couple weeks ago Ms. Isaac released a red-tailed hawk there that had been hit on Route 88).
“These guys are all fed,” and anxious to go, Ms. Isaac said
“I knew as soon as the got out of the box they would fly downwind, not upwind,” she said, a prediction that proved correct.
“They knew the area, they have their built-in compasses,” she said. Later in the day they will surely find a familiar tree to roost in.
Vultures, she added, play a critical role. “They live on dead things,” cleaning up carcasses and stopping the spread of disease.
Shelli Costa, education at the Westport River Watershed Alliance, said the vultures are well known to the school and neighborhood since they spend lots of time perched in the area’s tall white pines.
As youngsters watched from the windows, the birds were set free and high-tailed it for the trees.