Black vultures become a threat to livestock

Ohio farmer Fred Scott saw black vultures watching over his cows as they gave birth. Despite his vigilance, he has lost two calves to scavenger predators in the past 10 years.

“As soon as this calf is born, before it can take off, it usually attacks its eyes and gouges out its eyeballs,” he says. “Then usually they attack their tongue and rectal areas – any soft tissue area. When they do that, the calves bleed to death because they’re still alive when it happens.

Unlike its turkey cousin, the turkey vulture, which feeds only on dead animal carcasses, the black vulture is an aggressive bird that occasionally kills other animals for food.

The bird is becoming increasingly problematic for a region that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to Ohio, and from Texas to New York.

“Black vultures normally feed on animal carcasses, which provide a valuable service to our ecosystem,” says Thomas Butler, wildlife biologist for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. “However, they can become more aggressive and can attack and kill calves, lambs, piglets and other weak animals. This predatory behavior often results in serious injury to livestock, as vultures target the eyes and soft tissues. In most cases, due to the extent of their injuries, affected pets should be euthanized.

As migratory birds, black vultures are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, state laws and regulations, which means they cannot be killed or destroyed without a Migratory Bird Pillage Permit. of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Recognizing this growing problem and to streamline the federal permitting process, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources obtained a statewide depredation permit for black vultures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. wildlife. Now, Ohio livestock producers who are having problems with black vultures can request to remove up to five black vultures. Permits are valid for one year and are free. Similar programs are also in place for other states.

When using a deadly boost, Butler says to take a vulture in sight of the whole herd to scare the rest away. Then hang the dead vulture upside down at its feet, which is called an effigy.

“Hang it in the area where you don’t want the vulture to be,” he says. “The vultures don’t like the sight of the effigies and usually disperse out of the area. If they come back in a few days, repeat the process.

It’s not designed to control the population. “Use effigies on the farm to help you get through calving or lambing season,” says Butler. “The vast majority of the time, he’s pretty good at getting rid of it.”

Scott, located in Brown County, Southern Ohio, not far from the Ohio River, has been in the cow-calf business for over 40 years. He runs a 65-head operation, finishing about half the calves and selling feeders. He’s used permits and the effigy strategy with some success, but says it’s no substitute for vigilance.

“One of my cows had a difficult parturition in the lying position, and before the calf was fully out, the vultures were on the calf,” he says. “And they got on top of the cow and started pecking at her vagina and her rectal area while she was lying there – they are extremely aggressive at times. I was close enough to be able to step in and save both the calf and the cow, but if I hadn’t been there, it’s quite possible that I could have lost both the calf and the cow.

Scott also has a few dogs. “But black hawks are cheeky – you have to get close enough to get them to fly away,” he adds.

On occasion, when a group of cows are close enough to a calving cow, Scott has seen them establish a perimeter and run away from the vultures.

Other ways to deter

There are a few other black vulture control strategies, Butler advises. “I recommend that vultures be harassed whenever they are seen,” he says. “Use loud noises and ride a four-wheeled vehicle to scare them away. Auditory harassment with pyrotechnics is the best thing. They are specially designed to scare away birds – they are a bit like fireworks. And you want to do it the first time you see them because you don’t want them to feel comfortable.

Butler has a list of harassment tools and where they can be purchased, but he also recommends a sea air horn, green lasers, and sky dancers.

“Green lasers are good for scaring vultures in the morning and evening, or in low light conditions,” he says. “Sky dancers, if put on a timer, do a good job of scaring vultures away from a specific area, like a small pasture or barn.”

Butler says other management options include:

Carcass management. Properly dispose of any dead livestock. Bury them underground or make compost. Carcasses on the landscape attract predators.

Breeding. Keep a close eye on heifers calving for the first time. Predators seem to grab them.

Vegetation management. Vultures are known to roost and rest in large dead trees. Remove these trees if they are near your pasture.

Extended issue

Black vultures are expanding their territory, Butler says. “We see them along Lake Erie in the winter now,” he says. “It is possible to see them in all 88 counties of Ohio.”

And although the black vulture is classified as a migratory bird, it does not fly as far south as the turkey vulture. “It could just be southern Ohio where they’ll spend all winter,” Butler says. “The US Wildlife Services have been dealing with them since 2008, when it was primarily a southwestern Ohio problem, but it’s everywhere now.”

Normally about 30 permits (for five vultures each) are issued in a calendar year, but by early April Butler says they had already issued more than 30.

If a producer loses an animal to black vultures, they should carefully document the event and contact their local agricultural service agency office, as they may be eligible for reimbursement under the Livestock Compensation Program. .

Black vultures can also damage homes and commercial buildings by tearing through window caulking, roof shingles, vent seals, rubber roof coverings, and swimming pool covers. They can damage vehicles by scratching paintwork, stripping rubber seals and windshield wipers, and tearing vinyl seat covers from boats and tractors.

“They like to pick stuff,” adds Butler

For more information on vulture damage management or other wildlife services operations, call your state office at 1-866-4USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297) or visit

Cattle ranchers in Ohio can apply for a black vulture permit by contacting Butler at [email protected] or 614-993-3449.

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