Black vultures: friend or foe?

If you reside in Southern Missouri, the words “black vultures” are prob­ably not new to you or the folks at the local coffee shop. They’ve been in this neck of the woods for several years, but residents further north have recently noticed their expan­sion and increasing population. In particular, livestock producers are concerned because black vultures have earned a reputation for attack­ing live calves.

These birds are different than the red-headed turkey vulture that we are all accustomed to seeing throughout Missouri. The black vul­ture has a black body with a naked black head and is a bit smaller than its turkey vulture cousin. Both feed on dead and decaying animals. The difference between the two is that black vultures will attack live animals that are injured or unable to escape. Although this problem is not very common, it does happen. When it happens to your herd, it becomes personal.

The black vulture’s range spans from South America all the way to the Southeast United States and recently into Missouri. Making the issue more complicated is the fact that black vultures are federally protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This protection makes it illegal to harm or kill a vulture without a permit. However, there are legal ways to deal with black vultures if they become a nuisance on your farm.

If possible, avoidance or deter­rence is the first line of defense as well as the easiest and most cost-effective method—especially if black vultures have not been spotted on your farm. Try to avoid calving or having other livestock born in an area away from people. Instead, use an area closer to the barn or house where there’s more human activity. If a black vulture population is known to exist on your property, try using loud noise­makers like firecrackers or shining laser lights during the evening to scare the pesky birds on their roost. This can keep them from using your property.

The best method is to use a replica of a vulture or an actual dead vulture (with permit) as an effigy, which serves as a warning to the other predatory birds. Effigies need to be high enough to be seen from a distance and should be hung upside-down by the legs with wings splayed. Placing these around roost sites can be very effective, but it also can cause the birds to become habituated to the effigies, and another method of deterrence might need to be used.

The last method to deal with black vultures is a depredation permit. This should be used as a last resort unless imminent harm is being caused to livestock. Livestock producers can obtain a depreda­tion permit through Missouri Farm Bureau by contacting 573-893- 1416. Approved applicants will be allowed to kill up to three birds with the permit.

If a black vulture has killed livestock on your operation, with proper documentation the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program may provide reimbursement for that loss. Con­tact your local FSA office for more information.

There are many other resources in the state that can assist you with more information or actions to take if black vultures are a problem on your farm. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is responsible for responding to conflicts in the state due to migratory birds. If you are having problems with black vultures or would like more assistance, contact APHIS Wildlife Services State Office in Columbia at 573-449-3033, ext. 10. The University of Missouri Extension has a great website with more information at extension.missouri.edu/publications/g9466.

It should be mentioned that vultures play a vital role in main­taining a healthy ecosystem by consuming and helping with the decaying process of dead animals and reducing the spread of diseases in the environment. Animal scaven­gers, whether in the sky or on the land, are sometimes recognized as animals of no value, but without them, this world would look a lot different—and not for the better.

If you are concerned about black vultures on your property, it’s im­portant to have a good plan in place. Talk with professionals or produc­ers who have dealt with these pests before and can share suggestions on the best tactics to combat them.

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