CLIFTON, Maine — On Tuesday night Deanna Reed, a design associate at Dorsey Furniture in Holden, couldn’t sleep. Instead, she lay in bed turning over possible solutions to a perplexing problem that had landed, literally, in her backyard.
Outside, a turkey vulture was hanging upside down in a pine tree 60 feet off the ground. The bird’s tail had gotten stuck during the day and though they had tried, Reed and her husband Bill had not figured out a way to help it get free. A late winter storm hit that night, bringing snow, freezing rain and temperatures in the teens.
“It was awful,” Reed said of the feeling of not being able to help the bird. “It was very frustrating because we could see the bird but we couldn’t get to him.”
The Reeds are used to seeing turkey vultures roosting in the tall, thin pine trees near their house. On Tuesday, there was a group nestling together closer to the ground than usual, Deanna thought because it was unseasonably cold. But higher up, Bill noticed the one hanging upside down from its tail.
The rest of the day was spent trying to help the bird. The Reeds called Avian Haven, a nonprofit organization in Freedom that rehabilitates birds and reptiles, and spoke with executive director Diane Winn, who gave them suggestions for how to free the bird. A game warden came to their property and said there was nothing they could do. Winn helped them get a bucket truck to the property, but the truck could not get close enough to reach the bird.
Though a solution was elusive, Deanna said she was “in awe of the people in this community that were coming together to save this common turkey vulture.”
“It’s not like he’s an eagle,” she said. “He’s ugly, but he deserves to live.”
When night fell, the Reeds decided there was nothing more they could do that day.The next morning, Deanna looked out and saw the bird was still hanging, but it wasn’t moving.
“I thought he was dead,” she said. But then she saw him open his wings and the rescue efforts resumed.
Winn helped the Reeds find Brent Bibles, a bird expert who can climb trees and teaches at Unity College. He arrived at the Reed’s house, as did Marc Payne of Avian Haven.
Just as Bibles was preparing to climb the tree, the turkey vulture freed itself and flew to another tree nearby.
“He glided across the driveway to a dead pine and collapsed into it,” Payne said. “We knew he wasn’t going to go far.”
“He was kind of stumbling,” Deanna said. “He was very disoriented because he’d been hanging for over 28 hours.”
The bird fell to the ground. Payne, who had come prepared for a rescue, chased the bird about 20 feet before it collapsed again. He scooped him up and quickly injected fluids and pain medication into the bird with a syringe. He then put him in a cage that was lined with towels and brought him back to Avian Haven.
On Saturday morning, Winn said the bird was still alive and doing better.
“The turkey vulture is standing and eating,” she said. “We had been tube feeding up through the end of [Friday]. We tried putting some food in with him this morning and he is eating.”
Both Winn and Payne said they had never dealt with anything quite like this before.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Bill Reed as Phil.