Meet Lucy, Lucifer, and Linneaus

Trapping Lappet-faced vultures is never easy. Yet this time it was. We caught three birds in just four days and I have never been so happy or relieved in all my life. In the past we have trapped several Lappets, but because two of them were poisioned in the first few months and three of them had GSM-GPS units that happened to fail in the first month, we still know very little about their movement. It is certainly less than that of the African white-backed or Ruppell’s vultures, but just as variable with some birds leaving the Mara to spend a month in Ngorogoro Conservation Area, some hanging out in Athi River, and others just sticking close to home in the Mara through almost the entire year. Unfortunately almost all the Lappets we have trapped in the past seem to spend an enormous amount of time in the areas bordering the park – the exact areas where so much of the poisoning seems to take place. I guess it is no surprise that of four Lappet-faced vultures tagged our first year, we lost 50% to poisoning.
As always when trapping the birds we found that each bird was wonderful and unique. Our first bird, a juvenile Lappet-faced vulture was sweet and calm as Lappets so often are once you have them in hand. After we trapped her she lay perfectly still. It was as if we were her parents, doing something to her that only we understood, but which as a patient child she accepted that we knew best. We took blood and attached the backpack and she was soon on her way. I have seen little Miss Lucy as we named her almost five times since her release. She is still frequenting a nest, though her real parents have long since stopped caring for her. We have also found her at a few carcasses acting as juvenile birds usually do – rather confused and unsure of how to get past all the other vultures to the food and always highly offended when a competitor nibbles her to move her away.
The second bird was not so gentle. Lucifer, the second Lappet-faced vulture, managed to grab my finger as I was reaching around his shoulders to attach the backpack. As I realized my finger was in his enormous beak, part of a head that I couldn’t even fit my hand around, I wondered if I was about to lose this important digit. Fortunately he only crunched down for a moment and then released. My finger bled but with bird in hand there was no time to worry about it. I finished securing the backpack and released the bird before I finally took a good look at what happened. Considering the things I have seen Lappet-faced vultures do to a carcass, I felt very lucky that my injury was minimal. A simple love slice on each side of my left hand’s middle finger – it was tender for a few days but healed quickly.
The final bird was my favorite and alluded capture a few times only to find itself in our hands. Linneaus was a gorgeous adult with the strange soft downy feathers of the Lappets covering his chest. When we released him we left him covered in the blanket since it has started to rain. His head was out and the blanket was only loosely wrapped around him but he still didn’t move. I was beginning to worry that something was wrong but when we approached again it was clear that he had decided this blanket was his nest. I wanted to make sure that he really was alright though, so we gently removed the blanket to which he chirped angrily and then was off. He too appears to have a nest and we have seen him with his mate a few times in a tree not too far from where we first caught him.
All three birds are doing great and I wait intently to see where they will go this year.

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