Nova Scotia

Turkey vulture trapped under dead seal taken 325 km to wildlife hospital

When Robert Galbraith and Jeff Gratto went out to check the shoreline after Brier Island in southwest Nova Scotia was pounded by a weekend storm, they made a very unusual discovery.

Pair checking N.S. shoreline following storm make strange discovery

This turkey vulture was pinned under a dead seal on Brier Island, N.S., and could not escape. The men who found it thought it was dead, until it blinked. (Robert Galbraith/Facebook)

It's a long trip inside a cardboard box for an injured turkey vulture to be transported from an island off southwest Nova Scotia to a wildlife hospital on the province's Eastern Shore.

But that's the 325-kilometre journey one rescued raptor took this week after it was discovered half-alive in the most unusual of circumstances.

Robert Galbraith and Jeff Gratto went out to check the shoreline on Sunday after Brier Island was pounded by a storm. They spotted a dead grey seal on the sand and when they got close, they noted something else.

"Surprising to both of us, we noticed an adult turkey vulture pinned under the seal," Galbraith wrote in a Facebook post. "It had been eating the seal and a wave must have pushed the seal onto the vulture, trapping it.

"As we were looking at it, thinking it was dead, the bird of prey opened its eyes."

Robert Galbraith and Jeff Gratto were able to free the bird using a board to pry the dead seal off the vulture. (Robert Galbraith/Facebook)

That's when Galbraith and Gratto went into rescue mode. Gratto used a nearby piece of wood to lift the body of the heavy seal and free the large bird trapped under it.

The bird was gently taken from the beach and prepped in a cardboard box for transport.

"Peeking through a hole in the box that held the rescued turkey vulture, I saw it was standing upright on its own two legs and dancing about a little," wrote Galbraith, a longtime photojournalist who has worked as a lobster fisherman on Brier Island for five years.

The two men knew the bird needed to be checked out.

But getting it into the right hands for veterinary treatment wasn't easy given the logistics of the trip to the Hope for Wildlife rehabilitation clinic in Seaforth, a small community east of Halifax.

The injured turkey vulture had to take two ferries to get to Nova Scotia's mainland. (Robert Galbraith/Facebook)

First, the bird was transported from the area near the Brier Island lighthouse across the island to Westport, then onto a ferry crossing the Grand Passage to Freeport.

It was then picked up by a Hope for Wildlife volunteer and driven another 15 minutes to Tiverton, where the turkey vulture went on its way for another ferry ride to Digby Neck.

"It's probably the first turkey vulture that's ever taken two ferries in its life," Galbraith joked in an interview with CBC's Maritime Noon.

After a brief layover in the town of Digby, it was a three-hour ride to Hope for Wildlife.

"We were quite surprised as he seemed pretty alert when he arrived here, but he did have some feather damage," said Hope for Wildlife founder Hope Swinimer. "But I guess that was to be expected when you consider how he was found and where he was found."

The turkey vulture was carefully transported in a large cardboard box. (Robert Galbraith/Facebook)

No one knows just how long the bird was pinned underneath the seal, but it's now recovering inside an enclosure where it will spend the next few days under observation. Initial X-rays have shown no broken bones.

The bird will eventually be returned to the Brier Island area and released.

Swinimer credits the two men on Brier Island for their rescue efforts and the volunteers who helped deliver the bird from its remote location.

"What happens when we have injured wildlife is we put up a post on a private Facebook page to all of our volunteers and if someone is in the area they are usually more than happy to help out," said Swinimer.

"We have a lot of people who are on the road all the time and it helps us get these animals into us as quickly as possible."

The turkey vulture is recovering at the Hope for Wildlife rehabilitation centre in Seaforth, N.S. (Submitted by Hope for Wildlife)

Galbraith documented the entire rescue on camera and admits he is a great lover of birds and wildlife, and has a lot of experience working with birds of prey. He gave the turkey vulture a new name.

"I named it The Rock after actor Dwayne Johnson, because it had a bald head," said Galbraith. "I said, 'Let's cover this in depth with the video camera to show young people to have compassion for wildlife.'"