We are so sad to have to inform you that Delores, our beautiful Cinereous Vulture, passed away 29 December 2022. She was so close to the hearts of many of the team here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, and to many of you as well. After a period of illness, with heart disease and arthritis, with no signs of recovery, we took the kind, yet difficult decision to put her to a peaceful sleep. At the grand age of 32 years old, just 3 days off her 33rd birthday, we are devastated to have lost her, although blessed that she lived such a long life with us at the Trust.
To honour Delores’ legacy, we have set up a memorial fund. Donations will go towards the care of our birds, helping them to live a long and healthy life, alongside our work towards conserving their wild counterparts. Click here to donate.
Delores was a special bird at the Trust; a real character that brightened the day of many passing her aviary, giving a quirky head tilt and keeping an eye on the goings on. She had her firm favourites among the Bird Team and volunteers and would happily bring twigs to her favourites when they came to feed her and say hello. Many will hold fond memories of her cheeky, playful antics too; stealing their brushes when they came in to clean her aviary and pecking at their boot laces. She would delight in emptying buckets of collected loose twigs, leaves and weeds and you may have noticed some patches of un-mown grass in her aviary – this was usually where we’ve worked around her when she didn’t want to budge. If a lawn mower was unmanned, Delores would demolish the wheel trims too. All of this was part of her endearing charm, and easily forgiven with a raise of the shoulder feathers and a signature head tilt.
With the beautiful plumage around her neck, likened to a feather boa, her beautiful big eyes, gorgeous coloured feathers, she’s been known as quite the glamour puss at the Trust, and we love that she has been a champion in our plight to show how beautiful vultures are. She single-handedly converted many of our visitors to being vulture fans.
It will feel very strange to walk past her aviary and not be welcomed by Delores with a turn of her head or raising of her chest feathers as her greeting. We’ll miss her collecting sticks and placing them in a pile at the front of the aviary, proudly standing over her nest attempt each year. She touched the hearts of everyone at the Trust, all of whom would stop and chat as they walked by, from the Trust’s cleaner walking to work at 6am, to Feathers Restaurant staff on their way to corporate events at the Griffon Rooms. She won the hearts of so many and will be so sorely missed by staff, volunteers and visitors.
Ashley Smith (Life President and Founder) and John Chitty (The Trust’s Vet) look back on how Delores came into their lives.
“A pair of Cinereous Vultures had recently been imported to the UK from a zoological collection in Russia. I had never seen a Cinereous Vulture before and so I asked the chap who imported them if I could visit and see them. When I got there I discovered that one of them (Delores) had recently become very sick. I said to the owner that I thought she needed immediate specialist veterinary care and he agreed. I said that I knew just the vet who could help and that if he were to let me take her home I would go straight to the vet for treatment and that I would care for her, also pay for all her vet bills and that if she survived, she would then have a permanent home with us. He readily agreed.
I drove straight to our vet John Chitty’s house with Delores sat on the back seat of the car. It was late evening by the time that I arrived and when John opened the door I was stood there with Delores in my arms. I explained the situation and asked if he could take a look her as she was very sick. He agreed immediately though he was in the middle of hosting a dinner party. This did not deter John and between us all (including the dinner party guests) we cleared the dining room table to examine Delores on. One of the dinner party guests was so excited she said this was the best dinner party she had ever been too. John and his wife Kate carefully examined her, giving her a cocktail of drugs and then suggesting I take her home and keep her warm and hydrated. Slowly, but surely and with further care from John and Kate she improved and made a full recovery. I named her Delores after the character played by Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act” Ashley Smith Life President and Founder.
“It was a sad day saying goodbye to Delores. I first met her in my living room in 1993 when Ashley crashed an evening dinner bearing a Cinereous vulture he’d just picked up after import from a zoological collection in Russia. Delores was clearly disabled and had leg and foot changes due to bumblefoot infections. The key question was ‘could we do anything to help her?’ Well, we could – and she lived well at the Trust for nearly 30 years! It always seems particularly sad to lose a bird after such a long time but we do have to remember just how old she was (she was an adult when she arrived) and it isn’t surprising that, in the end, her arthritis and heart disease caught up with her. Delores had a long and good life and gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of visitors- she was a spectacular bird, but to me will always be the ‘vulture who came to tea’” John Chitty (Vet)
As Delores meant so much to so many, we will have an area at the Trust where visitors, volunteers and staff can go to pay their respects. Please bear with us for the next few weeks or so while we arrange this.
A huge thank you to everyone who has loved and cared for Delores over the years, supporting the Hawk Conservancy Trust with visits, donations and memberships, so that we could care for her and her roommates.