The Fab Four! 

Monitoring the Movement Patterns of Turkey Vultures

This summer Coastal Raptors and the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association initiated collaborative research to determine the site fidelity and migratory patterns of Turkey Vultures using solar-powered GPS satellite transmitters.  Hawk Mountain began this research in 2003 and has satellite- tagged more than 70 turkey vultures in Pennsylvania, Saskatchewan, California, Arizona and Venezuela.  Our collaboration provides an opportunity to monitor year-round movements of Turkey Vultures captured in summer on the Washington coast.


For this effort, we captured four Turkey Vultures, fitted them with both transmitters and wing tags. Wing tags allow visual identification with the naked eye, binoculars, spotting scope or camera with telephoto lens and are therefore helpful in corroborating telemetry location data. The field effort is chronicled in Notes from the Field below.


You can follow the movements of the “Fab Four” online at the website Movebank. We use bird names on the Movebank site to identify individuals rather than wing tag codes. See the table below for the names given to the Washington vultures.  Instructions on how to use Movebank and how to download movement data to Google Earth are found on the Coastal Raptors website at




Name (Name Origin) Wing Marker  Code
Coy (Trapped on a coyote carcass) CV
Grayland (Trapped on the beach north of Grayland) CC
Airy (Trapped at the Ocean Shores airport; relating to or belonging to air; high in air) EE
Artful Dodger (Trapped at the Ocean Shores airport; This was the nickname of a skillful young pickpocket and rascal, Jack Dawkins, in "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens; One who deftly evades obstacles, pursuers, inconveniences, and other difficulties...) HN 



Date: June 1, 2018

Location: 3 miles west of Hoquiam, north side of Grays Harbor, Washington

Observers: Dan Varland, JF Therrien, Sandra Miller and Susan Burchardt 


Individuals Marked

Species Color Marker Code
Turkey Vulture CV


In the field you can see from this kitchen window, we set out a Coyote carcass 

as bait for trapping Turkey Vultures. All photos on this date by Dan Varland. 



View from the Coyote trap site with the house about 100 yards away. Sue 

Varland noticed the carcass alongside the road during a bike ride north of

Hoquiam. I didn't hesitate to retrieve it for trapping after it was brought to my



My wife Sue kept an eye out for vulture feeding while preparing food for those 

gathered for the field effort. From in my office below the kitchen I heard, "There's 

one feeding!" I ran to the the kitchen, the best vantage point for activating the 

bow net, set it off and VOILA!  ...we had one under the net!


In my office a short time later, JF Therrien applies a satellite transmitter with 

the help of Susan Burchardt.  


Note the end of the beak is gray, which indicates this bird is a one-year-old.  


In addition to the satellite transmitter, our vulture was fitted with wing tag CV.


Left to right: Sandra Miller, Susan Burchardt, Dan Varland and JF Therrein.

After the release, Susan and JF helped Sue keep watch for other vultures

at the bait out the kitchen takers! 



Date: June 2, 2018

Location: Grayland, WA

In the field: Dan Varland, JF Therrien, Tom Rowley, and Sandra Miller.


Individuals Marked

Species Color Marker Code
Turkey Vulture CC


Vulture capture strategy: snares from 80-pound test fishing line tied to parachute 

cord, with the cord staked in the ground over a sea lion carcass. Dan Varland 



JF and I putting the finishing touches on the sea lion set-up. Sandra Miller photo.


Vulture capture strategy two:  electronically-activated bow net. Sandra Miller



Sandra Miller securing the bow net. Dan Varland photo. 


Once the traps were set, we watched and waited from several hundred yards 

away. Tom Rowley photo. 


We baited the bow net site with a deer leg; crows were the first scavengers to

venture into the capture zone. This photo and the rest below for this date are

by Tom Rowley. 


A Turkey Vulture settled in and began feeding. 


I activated the bow net, taking the vulture entirely by surprise. 







Our capture was a one-year-old, given the gray markings on the beak. 


Blood sampling. These days we're testing the blood for lead, highly pathogenic 

avian influenza and obtaining a DNA sample for the Burke Museum at the 

University of Washington

JF fits the transmitter while I hang onto the bird. 


JF makes a tracing of wing shape. 


Research has shown that Turkey Vultures with longer wings migrate further. 






The satellite transmitter. 


Sandra and I take pause with the vulture.



JF releasing the vulture. 


He flew a short distance, landing briefly before disappearing over the dunes to

the east. 





Date: June 5, 2018

Location: Airport in Ocean Shores 

In the field: Dan Varland, JF Therrien, Zoey Greenberg, Virginia Molenaar and 

Glenn Marquardt. 


Individuals Marked

Species Color Marker Code
Turkey Vulture EE

Deer leg as bait with net launcher set 13 feet away. Dan Varland photo. 


Cut grass was piled atop the launcher for camoflague. This photo was taken 

before the deer leg was set out.  Dan Varland photo. 


Side view of the net launcher, with airport runway in the foreground. We also

set a bownet.  Dan Varland photo. 


Both traps were set by 9:05 AM. We saw our first vulture, flying over the bow 

net, at 11:20 AM. Vultures, a raven and several Bald Eagles came and went. 

At 3:50 PM a Turkey Vulture landed near the bow net and began to feed. 

Two minutes later, at 3:52 PM, we captured one! This photo and all others in 

series below on this date were taken by Virginia Molenaar. 


JF Therrien teaches Zoey Greenberg how to apply a transmitter.




This vulture's beak was ivory-colored (no gray), indicating he/she is at least

two years of age. 



Checking the harness fit. 


JF turned the vulture upside down to test harness fit. 



Great job Zoey!


Left to right: Zoey Greenberg, JF Therrien, Dan Varland and Glenn Marquardt. 


Turkey Vulture EE just before release. 


Date: June 6, 2018

Location: Airport at Ocean Shores, Washington

In the field: Dan Varland, JF Therrien, Zoey Greenberg, Glenn Marquardt and

Dale Larson. 



Individuals Marked

Species Color Marker Code
Turkey Vulture HN


Back at the airport for second day of trapping with the net 

launcher and bow net, we met our goal of instrumenting four

Turkey Vultures with a capture at 3:33 PM. 


Zoey puts on the transmitter with guidance from JF. Dan 

Varland photo. 


Dale Larson photo. 


Dale Larson photo.

This image illustrates how the transmitter harness comes together in the front. 

After release vultures arrange their breast feathers over the top of the harness

material. Dale Larson photo.  


"No Carcass Left Behind". Image what the world would be like without vultures 

as the cleanup crew!  



Two-year-old vulture, given the ivory-colored beak (no gray). 

Dan Varland photo. 



Left to right: Dale Larson, Zoey Greenberg, Dan Varland, JF Therrien and 

Glenn Marquardt. Photo by Teresa Prochorow.