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November 4, 2013

Black vultures could be stirring up trouble for livestock producers

When a West Limestone farmer found a dead calf last Saturday while checking his cattle, he thought it might have fallen victim to a coyote, which occasionally prey on livestock.

However, on closer examination he discovered the newborn calf’s eyes were missing and the bones were not scattered, which is typical of a coyote.

His conclusion — possibly a black vulture attack.

Lyndi Jury, Regional Extension agent for Animal Science and Forages, and Spenser Bradley, Regional Extension agent for Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resource Management, said black vultures are becoming an increasing problem in the United States, particularly in the Southeast.

The two Extension agents recently researched black vultures and explained how the bird is stirring up trouble for livestock producers.

Black vultures are historically known for attacking young, defenseless animals such as newborn calves, lambs, kids (young goats), and pigs, according to the agents. An attack is usually fatal, but it is difficult to determine if the animals are alive or stillborn when attacked.

Jury and Bradley said it is first important to distinguish between the two different types of vultures common to the area — the turkey vulture and the black vulture.

The agents described turkey vultures as large, dark-brown birds that have a red head, long tail feathers and a wingspan that can be up to 6 feet.

Both described the black vultures as having gray heads, a black body, white splotches along the edges of their wings and short tail feathers.

The vultures’ flight pattern is also different. Turkey vultures flap their wings a few times and glide, holding their wings in a raised “V” position, according to Jury and Bradley. Black vultures hold their wings flat and flap them constantly while occasionally gliding, they said.

Jury and Bradley said the vultures eating habits are not the same either. Turkey vultures eat dead animals. Black vultures eat carrion, but are also know to attack and kill live animals.

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