February 28, 2013
This really is a bird of another feather.
For starters, she’s got a masculine name—Apollo. But that’s nothing compared to this: She’s got a serious turkey vulture crush on a bearded, soft-spoken Los Angeles County worker named Dave Stives.
Stives, the county’s regional animal keeper, has become accustomed to Apollo working herself into a hormonal tizzy when he nears her enclosure at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center in the Antelope Valley, especially during spring mating season. Among other things, she spins in circles and flaunts her tale. “A courtship dance,” says Stives.
Apollo and Stives first met nearly a decade ago. Apollo had been hit by a vehicle in Virginia and was shipped west for treatment at a private facility in the Antelope Valley. A tendon in Apollo’s wing had been damaged, thus bringing her flying days to an end. In those early days, Stives had helped in her care and training. Two years later, when the private facility went under, Apollo was moved to the county’s Placerita Canyon center. It was love at second sight.
“She remembered me and trusted me,” Stives says. That was seven years ago, he says, and the relationship is still going strong. “She follows me around like a puppy dog,” Stives says affectionately of the black-feathered, red-headed vulture.
Stives, 48, has worked as an animal keeper for the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation for some 14 years. He’s responsible for the seven nature centers and parks that house a menagerie of animals, including birds, possums, raccoons, rattlesnakes—“probably anything that is indigenous in the state,” he says. He travels from one facility to the next making sure all are in compliance with state and federal laws governing everything from the diet of the animals to their educational use, a requirement for the county to keep them. “We make sure they have the best possible life under our care,” Stives says.
At home, Stives also has some feathered and furry friends—two dogs, two cats, three falcons, plus a snake. As a “master falconer,” he takes his birds into the wild, where he’s “conditioned” them to circle overhead as he beats the bushes for rabbits. The falcons then swoop in.
As for Apollo, she now spends her weekends with Stives at educational animal shows, dispelling myths of vultures as the creepy outcasts of the bird world. “She’s actually quite pretty,” he says. “In her own way.”
To see the two in their native habitat, click on the video above.