The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 4, 2013

Black vultures could be stirring up trouble for livestock producers

By Lora Scripps
lora@athensnews-courier.com

— 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.

Control methods

Vultures are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are managed by the federal government’s Department of Interior, according to Jury and Bradley.

The agents said the vultures can be harassed with pyrotechnics or other methods without a federal permit, but can only be killed after obtaining a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is against the law to shoot black vultures threatening harm to livestock without a permit.

Farmers looking to obtain a permit should visit http://www.fws.gov/forms/3-200-13.pdf.

Jury and Bradley said the USDA Wildlife Services, located in Auburn, could be helpful in the application process by providing a recommendation to accompany the permit application. To find out more, contact USDA Wildlife Services at 334-844-5670.

Nonlethal methods

Jury and Bradley said USDA Wildlife Services is also helpful in providing information to purchase and acquire equipment such as pyrotechnics, sirens and propane cannons that might encourage vultures to relocate. The agents said the nonlethal harassment of vultures should begin at dark when vultures begin to roost and that it might take several (up to seven) consecutive nights before the birds relocate.

The agents also encourage farmers to remove dead food sources on the property as well as move livestock to easily watched pastures during birthing season.

Jury and Bradley said in the event black vultures become a problem on a farm, farmers should take note of the details in order to provide as much information as possible when applying for a migratory bird depredation permit. According to the agents, farmers should make sure vultures are being correctly identified as well as know the location where the problem is occurring. The agents said it is also important to document the date and time of each occurrence and take photos if possible.

To find out more about controlling black vultures, contact Spenser Bradley at 256-773-2549 or Lyndi Jury at 256-974-2464