A Nanaimo woman saw the beauty in the face of the beast when she plucked a turkey vulture from the waters of Departure Bay on the weekend.
Hilary Eastmure and her partner Greg Brown were kayaking around Saysutshun Newcastle Island on Monday when they saw eagles chasing a turkey vulture.
“We noticed two eagles were chasing something and we stopped to watch it as we were coming around the corner from [Newcastle Channel] into Departure Bay … we were watching this crazy chase and then the eagle grabbed its back and then just dove straight down into the water,” Eastmure said.
She said the eagle seemed to use the other bird as a “launch pad” to get up out of the water and fly away. Eastmure and Brown were only about 15 metres from where the birds had hit the water.
“I paddled over, thinking I was going to find a drowned crow or something and, as soon as I got close enough, I could see that bald head bobbing in the water, looking around, and I realized it was a turkey vulture,” she said. “I was just shocked to see it and there was no question in my mind, I just paddled over and he looked like he had a fighting chance and thought I’d be able to help him get out of the water.”
Eastmure used her paddle to lift the bird onto the bow of her kayak; its soaked wings hung heavily on either side of the craft as the bird lay gasping for air. Eastmure and Brown couldn’t tell if the vulture’s injuries were severe, but didn’t want to leave it to suffer on the island, so they called the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington for advice on how to transport the bird there.
“They … said if I could get it there that would probably be its best chance,” she said. “So, I tucked my sweater around it, because they said to put something over its eyes, and I tucked its wings in so they weren’t dragging in the water as we were paddling back.”
They paddled as fast as possible to the Nanaimo Yacht Club where they store their kayaks, loaded the injured vulture in their vehicle and rushed it to the wildlife recovery centre.
“I wrapped the turkey vulture in my blanket and put him in the back of the car on a life jacket, propped him up, made sure he could breathe and then we booked it to Errington,” Eastmure said. “I pep-talked him the whole way. Told him he was going to be OK. Hang in there. You got this. You’re a tough V.”
The vulture responded with “little sad croaks” during the drive to the wildlife centre. The bird survived through Monday night and into Tuesday, but the eagle’s talons had inflicted too much damage and the vulture succumbed to its injuries by Wednesday morning.
“The injuries were way too severe,” said Megan Buemann, animal care technician. “It’s pretty sucky because it’s such a miraculous story of them picking him up and seeing the whole thing. He had such a wonderful rescue from these people … It’s unfortunate, but if he didn’t get picked up by them, he would have been either suffering or [the eagles’] dinner or a mix of the two.”
The bird, which Eastmure, not knowing its sex, had named Victor-Victoria, turned out to be an immature vulture.
“I just saw a sweet bird that really needed help,” she said.
Upon learning of the vulture’s death, Eastmure said because the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre relies on admission fees but has been closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic, she will sponsor another vulture under care at the centre in Victor-Victoria’s memory.