WALNUT CREEK (KPIX 5) — The Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek is the oldest wild animal rehabilitation hospital in the nation. On Sunday, they celebrated a birthday for the worker who has been there the longest.

Before you even get to the front doors, visitors are greeted by the facility’s longest serving ambassador, Lord Richard the turkey vulture. Ricky, as he’s called by staff, arrived here clear back in 1974.

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Ricky the Turkey Vulture from the Lindsay Wildlife Experience (CBS)

“He came to us at just a couple months of age,” said Lead Animal Keeper Rachael Cross. “He was hatched at the Randall Museum in SF and then came to us very quickly after that.”

That makes Ricky 45 years old–the oldest living bird in California. On Sunday, his birthday party was a delight and surprise for the young visitors meeting him for the first time.

“We just came here today and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s his birthday,’” said 7-year old visitor Ace Angelo. “It’s funny that we just came here on his birthday!”

But young Kelvin Murphy of Walnut Creek had a different take. “He looked like a weird bird…that was really ugly,” Murphy said.

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Ricky loves being around people and has become something of a ham, proudly showing off his 4 and a half foot wingspan to crowds. But he’s also the victim of a scurrilous rumor. For years, the staff had been retelling a story that Ricky once laid an egg and is really a girl. But last year, the hospital conducted two DNA tests of his blood and it confirmed that Richard is, in fact a Lord and not a Lady, after all.

“Doesn’t matter to us…he’s always been my Ricky and he’ll be my Ricky forever,” Cross told KPIX 5 reporter John Ramos.

All the living residents of the Lindsay Wildlife Experience have a job to do: helping people experience nature’s creatures up close so they will care about what happens to them in the wild. Lord Richard has just been doing it longer than anyone else.

“Our animal ambassadors are so important because they do change people’s minds,” Cross said. “Because if you make people fall in love with those animals, they will want to save their wild counterparts.”

The staff says Ricky has been around humans so long he thinks he actually is one. He doesn’t really like other turkey vultures; maybe he thinks they’re kind of weird-looking.

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The Lindsay Wildlife Experience serves more than 100,000 visitors each year, including 40,000 school children. Its wildlife hospital was the first of its kind in the United States.