Heard showcases rare bird
By STEPHEN WILLIS McKinney Courier-Gazette

Though it won't soar over McKinney, one of two true albino Black Vultures in existence will be protected here as the newest permanent member of the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary's Raptors of Texas exhibit.

The Heard Museum introduced Atlanta Tuesday morning, joining the other raptors in a new permanent exhibit that opens to the public mid September.

According to Dr. Tim Gottleber, a volunteer at the Heard Raptor Center and member of the Heard board of directors, the buzzard is an unreleasable bird because it would be unable to survive in the wild.

The albino's weaker eyesight and white feathers, which aren't as structurally strong as black feathers, make it difficult for the soaring bird to hunt.

The lack of pigmentation also causes the skin of albinos to be particularly susceptible to sunlight, which means Atlanta would get sunburned.

"In a wild state she would not make it," Gottleber said. "It's extremely fortunate for this bird that she was found by people when she was and that we got her to the Heard."

Lonnie Lynch first found Atlanta, named after the small East Texas town where she hatched, last spring in a barn behind his house.

"It was dark in the barn and I heard a hissing and thumping noise," Lynch said. "When I checked it out it was a baby buzzard. We thought she was going to turn black and she never did. When she got her permanent feathers, we figured out she was an albino."

Atlanta was eventually abandoned by her mother, Lynch said. After the baby buzzard began to look unhealthy, he and his wife started feeding her table scraps and chicken livers donated by a local store.

Lynch called an area reporter who contacted experts in the field who eventually notified members of the Heard.

Overall, Gottleber said Atlanta was in good shape but underweight and infested with feather lice, which he said is typical for white birds. Since then, she's had a full exam and her condition has improved.

"She's a very typical, normal Black Vulture except that she's white," Gottleber said. "As far as we know, there is only one other albino Black Vulture in existence. It's really a neat opportunity for us to study this bird."

The only other true albino Black Vulture, a male named "Oxy," resides at the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Raptors of Texas exhibit will open Sept. 13 - 14, 2003 during the Outdoor Nature Festival featuring Birds of Prey. The festival, which draws thousands to the Heard each fall, will offer fly-fishing and bass-catching instruction, a climbing wall, hiking trails, wetlands tours, face-painting, camping displays, off-road vehicles, a Texas live snake exhibit, kids' activities, nature vendors and special presentations by birders and birds of prey.

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