WATERVILLE — A turkey vulture was released back to its natural habitat Wednesday, a week after the bird was rescued from inside a boiler room at the former Seton Hospital off Chase Avenue and then spent a week at Avian Haven in Freedom.

Bird experts there surmised the turkey vulture might have been scouting out nesting places last week when it perched on a tall smokestack at Seton, lost its balance and tumbled into the smokestack, from which it entered the boiler room via a former boiler vent. It had been flying around in the boiler room for a couple of days when the building manager contacted Waterville Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez.

Martinez tried to capture the large black and gray bird March 31, using a 23-foot painter’s pole with a net taped to its end, but the ceilings in the boiler room are about 30 feet high and the vulture kept evading capture. Martinez called Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, and Terry Heitz from Avian arrived and helped him capture it.

Avian co-founders Marc Payne and Diane Winn said Thursday that the turkey vulture was stressed out from the experience but otherwise uninjured. They kept a close watch on the vulture the day it arrived and the next day, they released it to a large flight cage.

“We just wanted to make sure he was well-fed before he left here, because we weren’t sure how long he’d been in the building,” Winn said. “He was doing fine, eating very well. They’re scavengers. They’ll eat just about anything, but they seem to prefer food that is dead, so he was fed leftovers of various kinds — mice, rats, chicken, fish. Whatever the eagles didn’t want, we’d give it to the vulture and he’d clean it up.”

Heitz drove the vulture back to the Seton campus off Chase Avenue on Wednesday because that is where it roosted with a lot of other turkey vultures.

“Evidently, there’s quite a large group of turkey vultures in that neighborhood, and we got a couple of comments on our Facebook page from people who see quite a group of them,” Winn said. “So he or she has buddies there and maybe a mate or a prospective mate. We basically just wanted to get the bird back to its group of friends.”

Heitz carried the bird to Chase Avenue in a cardboard box, opened the flaps and released it.

Martinez, who met him there and videotaped the release, said the turkey vulture took off and soared through the sky.

“I think it was a good ending,” he said. “I’m just surprised about how it got down that smokestack to that place. It was kind of an odd situation. It’s not something you see every day.”

Winn said she does not know if the bird will know enough to stay off the smokestack, which is about 100 feet tall and is a popular perch for birds.

“We certainly hope that he would learn from past experience and be a little more careful,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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