Bucket, The Friendly Vulture



Matt Burke

Bucket the vulture will greet you, but he might also try to eat you, so keep your fingers out of his enclosure at the Tallahassee Museum.

Meet Bucket the black vulture. He’s smelly, homely and likes to eat dead things. But when you approach the large aviary at the Tallahassee Museum he (or maybe it’s she; no one is quite sure) calls home, he’s there to greet and escort you around the perimeter — loping along, his bald white head bobbing and wings flapping — telegraphing the message “Pay attention to me!” as clearly as if the words were actually coming out of his pointy beak.

“People always think, ‘He’s sweet; he wants to say hi to me,’ ” says Natasha Hartsfield, the museum’s director of education. 

Well, yes. … And no.

The vulture was rescued by a well-meaning but misguided person as a baby and “imprinted” on humans. Fourteen years later, he would still rather interact with people than his own species

As a youngster, he was “very amicable. You could work with him, fly him … he had this neat personality” and was a popular animal ambassador in the community, says Hartsfield. 

But then he grew up. And he started doing what comes naturally for black vultures. And, naturally, they’re kind of bullies. So, while the bird craved human attention, he could also use that pointy beak to grab, twist and pull off a piece of his trainers. “He got me once on my leg … and that was through my jeans,” she says, showing the scar she carries seven years later. Bucket (so named because he used to carry around a child’s sand bucket when following around his original owner) is now retired from public appearances, destined to live his life in the aviary with three more placid turkey vultures, two red-tailed hawks and a great horned owl.

“I felt really guilty when I quit working with him, but then I thought it’s better for him that he gets to be out here and see people all day,” Hartsfield says. 

To highlight the important role vultures play in world ecology, they have been honored with International Vulture Awareness Day (vultureday.org), held the first Saturday of each September. This year, the Tallahassee Museum is having its own vulture day event on Sept. 6, which will feature hands-on educational activities, a keeper talk and science experiments.

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