MANAGING DAMAGE CAUSED BY BLACK AND TURKEY VULTURES
There are two species of vultures common to eastern North America, the turkey vulture (Cathartes ciura) and black vulture (Coragyps atratus). Both species of vulture have been expanding their range northward and their numbers in the last 50 years. Both species historicly have been most numerous in the southeastern states and Texas. Vultures are known locally as buzzards.
Turkey vultures are large dark brown birds with wing spans up to six feet and weigh about 4 pounds. Distinguishing characteristics of turkey vultures are a bright red head on adults, the leading edge on the underside of the wing is black while the trailing edge is gray, and the long tail extends well beyond the body when in flight. Turkey vultures have been reported to live to 16 years of age. In contrast, black vultures have less than a five foot wing span and approach four pounds in weight. Adult and juvenile black vultures have dark gray heads, the body is black, the underside of the wings are dark gray to blackish with White splotches at the end of the winq The tail is relatively short giving the appearance of a large bat when in flight. Black vultures have been reported to live to 25 years of age.
Damage associated with vultures may include killing or injuring livestock, damaging property, endangering the health and safety of humans, or general nuisance.
Vultures normally eat carrion; however, some learn to attack and kill newly born calves, lambs and piglets and other helpless or near helpless animals. Black vultures are usually responsible for this type of damage. Newborn livestock are especially vulnerable for the first five to ten days following birth. The vultures usually begin their attack on young livestock by plucking their eyes out, rendering them helpless. The helpless animal is then disemboweled and eaten. Vultures will also attack and kill down or sick livestock, stock giving birth and occasionally young birds (i.e., wading birds and chicks of other larger birds) in the absence of the parents. The attack on down or sick livestock is generally the same as with young livestock. Birthing stock are usually attacked from the rear and the rectal area is eaten while trying to give birth. The young being born is also killed and eaten. Young birds are simply killed and eaten. Vultures can also cause flesh wounds by biting young or slow moving animals.
Vultures have an attraction to materials made of vinyl, plastic, latex or other soft materials. Property damage includes tearing and consuming latex window caulking, asphalt roof shingles, vinyl seat covers from boats, tractors, and cars; swimming pool covers and enclosures, boat canopies, and plastic flowers at cemeteries. Vulture droppings can deface and cause damage to roofs of houses, office buildings, and electrical transmission towers. The accumulation of of droppings on electrical transmission towers has caused arcing and power outages.
Health and Safety Threats
On occasion, vultures present health and safety threats to people by contaminating water sources with their manure. These contaminations occur when coliforrn bacteria from manure enter cisterns, water towers or springs where water is drawn. Also, concentrations of vultures can be hazardous to flying aircraft. This is especially evident when vultures are attracted to sanitary landfills which are situated in close proximity to airports.
Many people consider vultures a nuisance due to their droppings, harassment of pets on runs or leashes, and a general dislike of having carrion-eating birds in the immediate vicinity.
DAMAGE PREVENTION AND CONTROL METHODS
Exclusion from limited resting areas can be accomplished by attaching a taut wire about eight inches high across the peak of a roof or other perching structure to discourage birds from perching. This wire, if metal, may be attached to an electric fence energizer for added effect.
A wire grid system erected over a small open farrowing, calving or lambing pen will keep vultures from entering the pen during the critical first week to ten days when the young livestock are most vulnerable.
Tactile. Application of a soft, sticky repellent or double-sided tape in perching areas has been reported to discourage vultures from using loafing sites. Follow instructions carefully if these repellents are used because sticky repellents tend to dIscolor painted, stained or natural wood siding. They will melt and run in warm weather, leaving unsightly streaks.
Acoustical. Pyrotechnics (fireworks made for bird contro1) can be effectively used to move vultures from an area. These devices make noises up in the air, near the birds. There are several types of exploding and whistling devices that are very effective. The "shell cracker" is a 12-gauge shotgun shell containing a fire cracker projectile that explodes after traveling up to 150 yards. They are tired from a single-barrel, open-bore shotgun. These exploding shells are extremely useful because of their range and loud noise. Harassment shooting (non-lethal) with live ammunition and a shotgun is also an effective method for dispersing vultures. Shotgun fire can increase the effectiveness of other frightening devices. Caution must be exercised to prevent crippling and/or killing the birds. Also, live ammunition creates safety / legal problems in urban areas. Rifles (.22 caliber) fired from elevated locations are effective for harassment in areas where they can be used safely.
Two devices which are fired from a 15mm launcher (starter pistol) will effectively move vultures with persistent use. These devices are known by several names. Whistlers, whistle bombs or bird whistlers travel 75 to 125 yards making a loud whistling noise and leave a trail of smoke when they are fired from the launcher. Bird bangers, or rocket bombs explode 35 to 50 yards in the air after being fired from the launcher. Noises up in the air near the birds are much more effective than those on the ground.
Automatic LP gas exploders (propane cannons) and electronic amplified noises can be used to enhance the effectiveness of pyrotechnics.
Consult state, county and local laws or ordinances regarding noise and the possession and use of fireairns and pyrotechnics prior to initiating a harassment program in urban areas.
In order to be effective, harassment must be persistent and initiated as soon as the problem is recognized. The use of vanous harassment tools simultaneously increases the likelihood of dispersing the vultures. To disperse a roost, begin harassment at dusk as the vultures come to roost and continue until dark. Vultures should also be harassed if present at dawn and during the day. Two to four weeks may be required to relocate a roost. Overuse of noise-making devices may cause vultures to become habituated to the noise and decrease the effectiveness of the method. As with any wildlife harassment program, persistence is the key. While there are several strategies for dispersing vultures, in reality, anything (flashing lights, water spray, noise, etc.) you can do to interfere with the birds' pattern will be beneficial to resolving your problem. In order for your efforts to be successful, you must haze / harass the birds on a regular, persistent, and variable basis.
Removal of food sourees such as dead livestock and road-killed animals lessens the likelihood of vultures being attracted to an area. Livestock producers that incinerate or bury dead annuals may stiil suffer black vulture predation as the killing behavior appears to be learned. Vulture predation can be disrupted by lambing. farrowinq or calving in or near barns or other buildings.
Removing trees within a roost to encourage roost dispersal can be effective.
Reducing the population of vultures at site specific locations through shooting and/or trapping is an effective method for minimizing damage. Shooting vultures with shotguns or rifles can be a highly selective and useful form of control under certain conditions. Federal and possibly state permits are required. Vultures can be live trapped utilizing large walk-in decoy type traps. Vultures are protected by Federal law and cannot be killed or trapped without proper permits from the U,S. Fish and Wildlife Service. USDA / APHlS / Wildlife Services can assist you In obtaining the proper permits.
Vuftures are protected by Federal law and cannot be killed or trapped without proper permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. State laws also affect the ability of an individual to address these problems. If you need assistance with vulture problems you may contact one of the following USDA / APHIS / Wildlife Services offices:
3231 RUCKRIEGEL PARKWAY, SUITE 107
LOUISVILLE, KY 40299
2664-C BELLS HIGHWAY
JACKSON, TN 38305
4708 WESTERN AVENUE, SUITE A
KNOXVILLE, TN 37921-3303