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The storied life of Ros the king vulture

An exciting thing happened this week in the Bird Department! Our own Queen B, Roswell the king vulture, laid an egg! Now, before you get too excited, Zoo Atlanta will not be hatching king vulture chicks anytime soon. Ros has a very colorful history, and has been living on her own for the last two years. Unfortunately, the adage is true: Even in the bird world, it takes two to tango! BUT, I thought this would be a great opportunity to tell you about my favorite bird and a little about her history.

Ros came to Zoo Atlanta as an adult in 2000, and spent the next two years trying (and failing!) to be an ambassador bird that flew in our shows. Ahh, but that kind of stardom just wasn’t meant to be for our girl, and she moved over to the Bird Department in 2002. She had already proven herself to be quite the diva, and we knew that she was going to need a really tough male to put up with her sass. It took a couple years, but Ron finally arrived in 2005. For the next four years, we tried, and tried, and TRIED to get them to live together peacefully, but Ros just wasn’t having it. She just never took a real liking to him, and we eventually gave up.

It still breaks my heart to even say this, but Ros ended up traveling to another zoo in 2009. She wasn’t gone for long, though! She ended up picking her OWN mate, and they both came back to Zoo Atlanta in the fall of 2013. I couldn’t have been more excited! Her new boyfriend was 5-year-old Marsellus. He didn’t even have all his white feathers yet. He was practically a baby! But she loved him. Unfortunately, mated bliss didn’t last long for our girl. Marsellus came down with an illness and passed away in 2015. Everyone was heartbroken.

But, she wasn’t alone for long! Marsellus’s passing opened up an opportunity for us to take a pair of female king vultures from another zoo while their habitat was under renovation, and Venus and Lilith arrived later that year. All three girls managed to live together (for the most part) peacefully for two years (probably because Ros had met her match in Venus, who wasn’t afraid to put her in her place!). But in 2017, it was time for the girls to move back to their newly renovated home, and we were on the lookout for another King for our Queen.

The Species Survival Plan® (SSP) didn’t take long in finding who they thought would be a good genetic match for Roswell, and in late 2017, Fred arrived at Zoo Atlanta. They lived together off and on but seemed to get along best when there was a barrier between them! Whenever they were together, Ros would consistently chase Fred to the point that Fred didn’t want to be around her at all.

So alas, she is again by herself while Zoo Atlanta and the SSP decide what’s best for her and what our next steps should be in getting her a friend or another mate. But that brings us back to her egg! While it was not fertile, this is a great step forward, and the fact that she is incubating gives us hope, that if/when the time comes, and she meets her ideal match, she will have gone through the motions and knows what to do!  

Monica H.
Lead Keeper, Birds

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