WATERVILLE — An agitated turkey vulture that was trapped in the boiler room at the former Seton Hospital for at least a couple of days was captured Thursday after a two-hour standoff with the city’s animal control officer.

“He’s a lot smarter than I am,” Chris Martinez said as he tried to capture the vulture with a 23-foot painter’s pole and attached net, only to watch it repeatedly fly off to another corner of the room.

The turkey vulture, which had a 6-foot wingspan, apparently got into the boiler room via a brick exhaust stack that is connected to vents inside the room at the former hospital. The vents were once connected to steam boilers.

Martinez was called to the building late Thursday morning by Cullen Fletcher, who manages the property for owner Kevin Mattson. Mattson plans to convert the empty building into apartments and offices.

Fletcher said the vulture had been in the boiler room, which has 30-foot-high ceilings, for a couple of days.

The vulture, black with a red head and gray under its wings, flew to perches among a maze of pipes near the ceiling and balconies each time Martinez tried to capture it with the pole and net.

After about an hour and a half, Martinez called Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Terry Heitz from Avian arrived and helped capture it.

Heitz positioned himself on one side of a balcony and Martinez stood on the other. They shooed the bird back and forth between them until Martinez caught it in the net and pinned the net to the floor. The two put the bird into a pet carrier and it was taken to Avian Haven.

NO APPARENT INJURIES

A preliminary evaluation turned up no broken bones or other injuries, according to Avian Haven co-founders Diane Winn and Mark Payne. They planned to watch the bird for the rest of the day Thursday and place it in an outdoor flight cage Friday. The vulture might be released within a few days, they said.

“He seems pretty good right now – it’s been pretty stressful for the bird,” Payne said Thursday.

Fletcher said he has seen turkey vultures perched atop the stack and on a tall antenna on the roof of the closed hospital. The building has no heat or running water.

Payne said the vulture may have been scouting for nesting places when it made its way down the smokestack.

“This time of year it’s not uncommon for birds to come down a chimney,” he said.

Turkey vultures nest in abandoned buildings, caves and other types of rocky shelters, he said. The birds are now migrating north to Maine from their winter habitat farther south along the Atlantic coast, he said.

Martinez said vultures often roost together in trees and feed primarily on carrion.

BIRD CARE

Martinez, who is animal control officer for several towns and a police officer in Hallowell, worked at the Los Angeles Zoo in the 1990s, where he became familiar with large birds.

“I worked right next to the condor pen, and I worked with a lot of those types of birds then,” he said.

Martinez typically works with animals such as cats and dogs, but he had another big bird encounter a couple of years ago.

He rescued an osprey in Randolph that had become entangled in a length of fishing line with a lure and hook on one end.

“The string was long enough that it actually started to tangle in his wings,” Martinez said. “At a certain point over land, he couldn’t flap his wings open and fell from the sky into a guy’s backyard.

“The guy called and I went out there and got the bird and sat in the back of my truck and untangled it.”

Avian Haven is a nonprofit organization that has treated nearly 15,000 birds of more than 100 species, according to its website.

Amy Calder can be contacted 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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