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Nuisance Species: Black Vulture

In Ohio, there are two types of vultures; turkey vultures and black vultures. Both are scavengers and feed on a variety of dead animals. Smaller and more aggressive than turkey vultures, black vultures have been witnessed attacking newborn calves. Vultures will strike during the birth process, or shortly after birth, by attacking the eyes, nose and other soft tissue of newborn calves. In some cases, the adult cow is also injured during these assaults, sometimes to the point of causing death.

Black vulture range and population numbers have also expanded since the 1980s, resulting in increased property damage, livestock and pet depredation, and aircraft collisions. In Ohio, the number one request to U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for help with black vultures is for livestock depredation. These requests doubled from 2012 to 2015 and black vultures continue to threaten livestock producers throughout Ohio.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (WS) provides some useful tips and strategies to reduce the potential for livestock losses.

Harassment and husbandry practices can prevent damages before they occur and should be implemented as soon as vultures are observed on your property. The goal is to discourage the birds until they decide to move to another area. Any wildlife lives where it finds shelter, food and water, so these recommendations are designed to make your property no longer attractive to the vultures.

  • Visual and sound harassment are the primary means of dispersing vultures. Noise harassment can include propane exploders or pyrotechnics, sound-and-light projectiles similar to firecrackers.
  • To move vultures from a night-time roost, shining a low-powered red or green laser towards the birds, approximately 30 minutes before and after sunset, can discourage their presence. Lasers, safe and quiet, can be effective over distances of several hundred yards.
  • 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 replica.
  • Immediate removal of carcasses and/or afterbirth will reduce the attraction to an area. These materials should be deeply buried or composted.
  • Implement rotational grazing, move livestock closer to human activity, or use guard animals.

If you continue to experience losses or damages after using harassment and husbandry practices, several programs can assist you. The 2015 Farm Bill offers a Livestock Indemnity Program administered by USDA Farm Service Agency to compensate producers for loss due to avian predators. Should you experience a loss or damage to livestock and would like to pursue compensation please follow the instructions below:

  1. Immediately contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to file a notice of loss and complete an application upon discovery of loss.
  2. It is also recommended to take digital photos of the predation/injuries as soon as it is discovered.
  3. Provide documentation for proof of livestock to FSA (see Fact Sheet for acceptable documentation)
  4. Producers have 30 days to file a notice of loss, however, because of decomposition, it is best to file as soon as possible because a follow up on-site investigation may be necessary to be eligible for compensation.

After non-lethal and husbandry practices have been implemented, if your livestock is still threatened by vultures, lethal removal of a few black vultures may be necessary to further encourage the flock to leave the area. Although a threat and sometimes a nuisance, black vultures fill an important place 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.

A Migratory Bird Depredation Permit from the USFWS is available, however, and does not require active damage or livestock loss prior to applying. If you have experienced black vulture damage in the past, or if impending black vultures threaten your livestock, you may apply for a permit to have on hand, ready to use. The Ohio Division of Wildlife will pay the $100 permit fee for your first permit. The time from application to issuance is minimal and permits can be used for one year.

Steps for applying and receiving a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit from the USFWS for black vulture damage in Ohio follow:

  1. Livestock producers experiencing black vulture depredation or who have aggressive black vultures harassing livestock should call the WS Ohio office 1-866-4USDAWS (1-866-487-3297) or (614) 993-3444.
  2. WS recommends that the producer take several digital photos of the injured/killed livestock and the vultures, as soon as they are discovered.
  3. WS provides a permit application and instructions to the producer electronically (email or fax). If the producer does not have access to email or fax, they can contact their local county Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office to assist with the application and computer/fax access. NOTE: All livestock producers with black vulture problems who apply for this initial permit are excluded from paying the $100 application fee to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Ohio Division of Wildlife has set up a fund to pay for first-time permits. If producers need a permit in subsequent years, the $100 renewal fee will be the responsibility of the producer.
  4. The producer returns the completed application and any other supporting documents (i.e. pictures, investigation report completed by SWCD specialist or county wildlife officer) back to WS electronically.
  5. WS reviews the application to ensure it is completed correctly and generate a WS Form 37 as required.
  6. After the WS Form 37 is generated, WS submits the completed application package to USFWS Region 3 Bird Permitting office, on behalf of the producer.
  7. Once received, USFWS reviews the application, WS Form 37 and any supporting documents. Generally, a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation Permit will be issued within 1-3 business days and sent back to the producer or SWCD specialist via email. If the SWCD office is assisting, the SWCD specialist will notify the producer that the permit has been issued and is available for pick up at the local SWCD county office.

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 to livestock producers, through proper wildlife management and animal husbandry techniques these losses can be minimized or prevented. For additional information on minimizing and mitigating damage caused by black vultures, please call the Ohio WS state office at 1-866-4USDAWS (1-866-487-3297) and see the Wildlife Services’ Fact Sheet on Vulture Damage Management.