All Parker wanted to do was make a few friends. He never thought his search for socialization would cause a massive, weeks-long hunt throughout Edinburgh and Columbus.
Maybe Parker came on too strong.
“Apparently, it made some people feel uncomfortable,” said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.
It could have been his appearance: the beak, feathers, talons and large wingspan.
Not so rare bird
Parker, you see, is a turkey vulture.
His presence in the area, particularly at Parkside Elementary School, caused a stir with people and generated a lot of phone calls to the Columbus Police Department.
Turkey vultures weigh about 4 pounds but have a wingspan of up to 6 feet, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website. They’re friendly and federally protected.
“He just wanted to hang out,” Parkside Elementary School Principal Chris Smith said. “He wasn’t hurting anybody. We didn’t know that at first.”
All concerns were eased Monday when Kathy Hershey, director of Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators in Hope, baited and caught the turkey vulture at Parkside Elementary. His capture ended a chase that included stops at local parks, residential areas and schools. The bird, named in honor of the school, is safe and staying with similar wildlife in Columbus.
“We’ll be using him for educational programs so that people know how cool they are,” said Hershey, who is housing Parker at the nonprofit Utopia Wildlife.
The wild-bird chase started when reports of a big bird inhabiting Driftside Mobile Home Park in Edinburgh surfaced in June. Parker scared parents whose children were being followed by the bird. In some cases, Hershey had to talk people out of killing Parker.
“They were terrified of him,” she said. “They were talking about shooting him.”
Off and on throughout July and earlier this month, area animal control officials got calls about a turkey vulture in Columbus.
Last week, Columbus Animal Care Services attempted to catch Parker at Columbus Christian School. But each time the bird-catchers arrived, the bird evaded their grasp.
“You look into his eyes,” Hershey said, “and you realize you’re dealing with something smarter than you.”
“We’d pull up in a van and it would fly away,” said Kevin Konetzka, director of Animal Care Services. “Anybody else it would come up and sit next to. He’s so smart, we found it rather humorous that he would spot us out of all the other vehicles.”
It may have been funny, but it wasn’t a game. Phones were buzzing about the buzzard-like bird. It was time to end the madness.
The Columbus Police Department received calls Sunday concerning the vulture’s appearance at Freedom Park.
“It was just there in the park walking around,” Myers said. “I think people were concerned for the actual bird. And then you had some who were concerned about their safety.”
Myers said officers tried to catch the vulture, but it flew away. They weren’t the first people to be frustrated by the vulture’s craftiness. Animal Control Services and Hershey tried to bag the bird several times.
“Because he can fly, there’s no way you can catch him,” she said. “And because they’re so smart, they won’t let people get too close him.”
At first glance, Smith thought a different type of bird was meandering outside Parkside on Monday morning. His son, Charlie, a second-grader at the school, began yelling, “Turkey! Turkey!” while in the principal’s office, awaiting first bell. Smith told his son he believed the animal was a turkey vulture.
“We thought it was hurt or sick,” Smith said. “Turns out it wasn’t. It was very friendly.”
Before long, Parker was greeting Parkside students near the front entrance. Smith chased it away, thinking the issue had been resolved. But the bird re-emerged at recess, prompting the principal to shoo it away again — to the dismay of some students.
“It was funny because the kids were afraid of him at first,” Smith said. “Then they liked him.”
Hershey arrived later Monday and lured the vulture with dead mice and trapped it.
“People were afraid that it was watching children and following them around,” Hershey said. “They thought it was going to hurt them. That wasn’t the case at all.”
Turkey vultures eat only dead animals. They’re not predators and are harmless to humans. Hershey said she thought Parker had been domesticated because he was so comfortable around people.
“He thinks he’s a person,” Hershey said of Parker, which she estimated to be about 1 or 2 years old. “So that means he’s just messed up for life. If we were to let him go, he would just go back to school or a place where people are.”
Now, Parker has a home at Utopia Wildlife with a new friend, Zephyr, another turkey vulture who spends his days channel surfing.
“He likes TV,” Hershey said of Zephyr. “He can actually turn the channels on the remote.”
Although Hershey believes Parker feels lonely and misses his friends, he’s safe now and as friendly as he was during his tour through Columbus.
“He’s a nice guy,” Hershey said. “Very sweet personality.”
Flight through Columbus
Reports surface about a turkey vulture at Driftside Mobile Home Park in Edinburgh
June through July
Local animal care services receive several reports of a turkey vulture in Columbus.
Parker the turkey vulture arrives at Columbus Christian School.
Parker departs from Columbus Christian School.
Parker is spotted at Freedom Park in Columbus. Utopia Wildlife’s Kathy Hershey plans a “full-court press” to catch the turkey vulture.
8 a.m. Aug. 13
Parkside Elementary School second-grader Charlie Smith spots Parker outside the school. He yells to his father, Parkside Principal Chris Smith, “Turkey! Turkey!”
Noon Aug. 13
After several attempts to scare Parker away, Chris Smith admits defeat. Hershey arrives at Parkside and captures the animal.
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