Nuisance Species: Black Vulture
In Ohio, there are two types of vultures: turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and black vultures (Coragyps atratus). Both are scavengers and feed on a variety of dead animals. Black vultures, smaller and more aggressive than turkey vultures, have been seen attacking newborn calves and lambs. Black vultures’ range and population have expanded since the 1980s, resulting in increased property damage, livestock depredation, and aircraft collisions. Vultures will strike during the birthing process, or shortly after birth, and attack the eyes, nose, and other soft tissues of newborn calves and lambs. Adult animals may also be injured, and in some cases these injuries may lead to the death of the adult animal.
Black vultures, like all wildlife, have value. They play an important role in the ecosystem, feeding on carrion and reducing disease. We need to appreciate their value and manage them appropriately. While vultures can cause significant economic losses for livestock producers, these losses can be minimized or prevented through proper wildlife management and animal husbandry techniques.
Identifying a Black Vulture
Signs of Black Vulture Damage
Large groups of black vultures may roost or occupy woodlots near human habitats and can be destructive. Black vultures often damage homes and commercial buildings by tearing window caulking, roof shingles, vent seals, rubber roof liners, and pool covers. They can damage vehicles by scratching paint, removing rubber seals and wipers, and ripping vinyl seat covers from boats and tractors. Black vultures also affect quality of life for people. The birds smelly feces and vomit can accumulate, especially on roofs, communication towers, and electrical transmission structures. On electrical transmission towers, arcing and power outages may occur, at great expense to utility companies.
Black vultures normally feed on animal carcasses. However, they also may attack and kill calves, lambs, piglets, and other weak animals. This predatory behavior often results in serious injury to livestock, because vultures target the eyes and soft tissues. In most cases due to the extent of their injuries, affected domestic animals must be euthanized.
Preventing Black Vulture Damage
Wildlife species live where they find shelter, food, and water, so the recommendations below are designed to make your property less attractive to vultures. Integrated wildlife damage management efforts should be implemented as soon as vultures are observed. Harassment and husbandry practices can prevent damages before they occur. The goal is to discourage the birds until they move to another area.
- Visual and noise harassment are the primary means of dispersing vultures. Noise harassment can include propane exploders or pyrotechnics, which have sound-and-light projectiles similar to firecrackers. Noise harassment technical sheet
- To harass vultures from a nighttime roost, shine a low-powered red or green laser toward the birds approximately 30 minutes before and after sunset to discourage their presence. Lasers, safe and quiet, can be effective over distances of several hundred yards. Special caution should be exercised if nearby an airport or low-flying aircraft when using lasers. Lasers technical sheet
- A vulture effigy suspended near livestock could disrupt daily vulture activity and persuade vultures to leave the area. Effigies may be a carcass, a taxidermist-preserved mount, or a replica.
- Immediate removal of livestock carcasses and/or afterbirth reduces vultures’ attraction to an area. These materials should be buried deep underground or composted.
- Rotational grazing, moving livestock closer to human activity, and/or using guard animals may be helpful in making the property less inviting.
- Consider moving calving and lambing from pastures into barns. Barn calving and lambing is especially effective for heifers or ewes giving birth for the first time.
- Healthy animals are less susceptible to predation than unhealthy ones. Practices such as vaccination programs, adequate nutrition, and a clean pasture environment not only improve overall herd health but also decrease predation.
For additional information on minimizing and mitigating damage caused by black vultures, please call the Ohio Wildlife Services state office at (614) 993-3444 or 1-866-4USDAWS (1-866-487-3297) and see the Wildlife Services’ Fact Sheet on Vulture Damage Management.
Lethal control of Black Vultures
After non-lethal and husbandry practices have been implemented, lethal removal of a few black vultures may be necessary if your livestock are still threatened to further encourage the flock to leave the area. Although sometimes a nuisance, black vultures fill an important role in the environment and are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Lethal take without a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is punishable with fines and/or jail time.
To streamline the permitting process, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife has obtained a statewide depredation permit from the USFWS for black vultures and livestock protection. The Division of Wildlife will work with Wildlife Services to issue sub-permits to livestock producers experiencing issues with black vultures. These sub-permits cover commercial livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and swine, and are free to livestock producers.
Steps for obtaining a Migratory Bird Depredation Sub-Permit for black vulture damage in Ohio:
Compensation for Loss
If you continue to experience losses or damages after using harassment and husbandry practices, the 2018 Farm Bill offers a Livestock Indemnity Program administered by USDA Farm Service Agency to compensate
producers for loss due to avian predators. Should you like to pursue compensation, please follow the instructions below:
- Immediately contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to file a notice of loss and complete an application upon discovery of loss.
- It is also recommended to take digital photos of the predation/injuries as soon as they are discovered.
- Provide documentation for proof of livestock to the FSA (see Fact Sheet for acceptable documentation)
- Producers have 30 days to file a notice of loss, however because of decomposition it is best to file as soon as possible. A follow up on-site investigation may be necessary to be eligible for compensation.
Farm Service Agency Disaster Assistance Livestock Indemnity Program [pdf]