Buttercup Training 2014

Buttercup the Black Vulture became a Wildlife Center display education animal in September 2011. In February 2014, the Center staff began working with Buttercup to re-train him as a traveling education animal. At his previous home at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia, Buttercup was glove-trained as a young bird. Our training efforts will be documented here, so check back often for updates and photos! Outreach coordinator Raina Krasner will start as his primary trainer, and over time other handlers will be introduced.

A Helpful Guide to Raptor Training Terminology

June 2 Update from Raina Krasner

Buttercup recently celebrated his tenth birthday! It’s been an eventful year for Buttercup – he’s been traveling, meeting fans, and even launched a fashion line.

Most importantly, Buttercup has been a tremendous bird to work with, and he is now one of my first choices when I need a bird for a presentation.

Below are a couple of photos of Buttercup at Riverfest – a local festival in Waynesboro – in early May. For weeks after Riverfest, I encountered children with their parents (at the library, grocery store, park, etc.) who approached me to say that they loved Buttercup and thought the “Keep Calm and Carrion” shirt was great!

Our training plan for Buttercup started in February and is now slowly coming to an end. These were our primary goals during training:

• Reintroduce Buttercup to the glove
• Help Buttercup feel comfortable in front of large and small groups
• Teach Buttercup to step on and off the scale to be weighed
• Reintroduce Buttercup to a crate for traveling
• Work on Buttercup’s behavior in his enclosure (e.g. stepping up on the glove, not bating from the glove)

Buttercup and I have met almost all of our training goals in the past several months. We’ve presented in front of large and small audiences, and Buttercup is a fantastic traveler. We’ve also worked on Buttercup’s behavior in his enclosure, and he rarely regurgitates due to excitement or nervousness.

We will continue to work together to encourage good behavior, and he has been slowly introduced to new handlers … but our training plan has largely been completed.

To keep up with Buttercup’s life, you can sponsor him through the Caring for Critters program; if you provide us with an email address, you will receive periodic updates about where he’s been and what he’s doing.

Thanks for everyone’s support and interest during these months of training!

-Raina and Buttercup


March 19 Update from Raina Krasner

Buttercup’s training in his outdoor enclosure has been going well. Because Buttercup is mostly comfortable with humans, he does not seem uneasy when I enter his enclosure and approach him. When I enter his enclosure, he typically perches in the center of the enclosure, and when I approach and ask him to step up, he responds well. He becomes slightly impatient if it takes me too long to attach the swivel and leash to his jesses, and he flaps his wings and occasional makes some grunting noises. Overall, this step in the training process has been successful, and we will continue to work on his patience while attaching his equipment.


On March 19, Buttercup traveled with me to a local preschool in Crozet, Virginia. Buttercup, along with fellow education animals Quinn the Great Horned Owl and Wilson the Eastern Box Turtle, helped to teach the children, teachers, and parents about native wildlife in Virginia.

Buttercup was huge hit. When he was out on the glove, he spread his wings wide for everyone to see his beautiful feathers, and he made soft “woof” noises while waiting in his crate, which delighted the children.

This was Buttercup’s first off-site program with me, and it was a great success. I look forward to many more programs with our vulture ambassador. Check back soon for photos!

Next in our training process is introducing more handlers to Buttercup. In the next week, we will introduce Buttercup to outreach coordinator Chapin Hardy and director of outreach Amanda Nicholson.

March 4 Update from Raina Krasner:

I have been working with Buttercup for about two weeks now, and training is going well! Since we announced that we’re working with him, Buttercup’s former trainer and some individuals who remembered him from his days at Maymont have reached out to us through Facebook. It’s great to hear that he is remembered fondly by so many others!

Buttercup has already met four groups of people during on-site programs at the Wildlife Center. He was very popular at the Center’s first Open House of the season on February 23. The tour attendees were particularly interested in learning more about vulture natural history after meeting our charismatic ambassador.

Buttercup has been spending time perched in the outreach room near my desk. This was to help him become comfortable with different people, noises, and stimuli in his in environment. Buttercup did not need to spend too much time acclimating to his temporary indoor setup – he enjoys having visitors stop by throughout the day to say “hello”.

On February 26, Buttercup seemed especially antsy, and he was investigating everything within reach. Wildlife rehabilitator Amber Dedrick and I spent the morning piecing together some fun enrichment items for him. His selection included: half of a frozen watermelon; a cat toy; a dish of water; duct tape tabs on his perch; a bowl with leaves and insects; a rattle; a hard-boiled egg; and torn pieces of paper.

Naturally, he much preferred to peck at the buttons of the jacket draped over my chair or the laces on my boots, despite the plethora of toys at his disposal. He eventually decided that playing in his water dish was most entertaining, as he splashed the water all over the floor around my desk. It was a lot of fun to watch him clean his feet and preen his feathers after getting wet.

After a few days of being indoors, we noticed that Buttercup had a runny nose. Veterinary intern Dr. Kristin Britton checked his nasal discharge and listened to his lungs. Nothing indicated that Buttercup was sick, and we decided to keep an eye on him. On February 27, wildlife rehabilitation intern Kelsey and Dr. Kristin noticed that Buttercup’s beak and neck felt warm. The following day, Buttercup regurgitated during a program (all over me, the floor, and the seventh-graders in the first row!) Vultures will sometimes vomit as a defense mechanism, but Buttercup did not appear stressed or nervous. In fact, he had been preening and showing off his wings just moments before he regurgitated. It was quite a surprise for everyone involved.

After this incident, Dr. Kristin again listened to Buttercup’s lungs and drew blood to check for signs of an infection. Dr. Kristin thought that Buttercup might be feeling under the weather, though his attitude has been bright and alert. She suggested that it is best to keep him in one environment, instead of moving him back and forth between his indoor and outdoor setups. We held off on moving to the next of his training – working on his enclosure training.

On March 2, Buttercup’s bloodwork was determined to be within normal limits, and Dr. Kristin cleared Buttercup for training in his outdoor enclosure. We’ll start today!

I am excited to move on to the next phase of our training together. Soon, we hope he will be traveling to off-site programs.

February 20 update from Raina Krasner:

Since I started working at the Center in August 2012, I had hoped that we could add Buttercup to our team of traveling animals. I thought it would be great to have Buttercup as a representative of this often-misunderstood species during the many programs we present throughout the year. Buttercup is a very popular bird (with everyone from staff and students, to volunteers and supporters) and we all agreed that his charismatic personality would help him to be an ideal traveling education animal.

During my first year at the Center, I was able to work with other birds and develop some basic bird training and handling skills. By the fall of 2013, we started toying with the idea of reintroducing Buttercup to the glove. But we wanted to make sure we had a solid training plan in place and enough time to dedicate to his training. Now that the outreach department is fully-staffed, there is room in the schedule to begin working with another bird. We consulted with others who had worked with education vultures, and decided that late winter would be the perfect time to begin work with Buttercup.

On February 18, following Buttercup’s annual physical exam, we placed equipment on Buttercup’s legs – anklets and jesses – so that he could begin glove training! Once the equipment was safely secured, we began training him right away. He was placed directly on the glove and was initially confused, which was to be expected. When scared or startled, vultures have a great defense mechanism – they respond to the situation by vomiting. Buttercup did just that, and splattered the floor, my jeans, my boots, and my hair with little globs of smelly vomit.

He spent the first couple of minutes trying to figure out how to gain balance on the glove, but we were soon walking throughout the building, while Buttercup sat calmly on the glove. We spent the first day walking inside the hospital and lobby and around the outside of the building. Buttercup also had practice going in and out of a large crate in the outreach room.

Our ultimate goal is to have Buttercup trained as a traveling ambassador, as opposed to being solely a display bird at the Center. He would be an invaluable addition to our off-site education programs and we know children and adults will love to meet him.

We hope that Buttercup will be ready to travel for programs by mid-spring – we have some amazing events on the schedule that would benefit from Buttercup’s attendance.

Training is going well so far. Our initial goals are to have Buttercup comfortable on the glove in front of children and adults, Spending a lot of time near people will help Buttercup develop a comfort level in front of larger crowds of people – just as he would encounter at a fair, school, or library during a public program. Over the next several weeks, we will spend the majority of our time encouraging Buttercup to be fully comfortable on the glove.

Once I feel that Buttercup is comfortable enough on the glove indoors, we will begin working on behaviors in his outdoor enclosure.