Black vultures are a native species to Kentucky, and in the last ten years their population has increased to the point where they are common across most of the state. Vultures, both black and turkey, provide an important ecological service in consuming carrion (dead animals), which reduces the risk of diseases spreading in the environment.
Vultures, as with all other wildlife, will take advantage if resources are available to them, and unfortunately this behavior sometimes involves human dwellings or livestock operations. Fortunately, vultures respond well to relatively simple methods that discourage them from congregating or feeding in critical areas.
Black vultures are approximately 23 to 27 inches in height and have a wingspread of more than 5 feet. They weigh 3.5 to 5 pounds on average. Black vultures are smaller than turkey vultures. The best way to distinguish the two is the adult turkey vulture has a bright red head where the black vulture has a gray/black head.
In flight black vultures hold their wings in a more horizontal position and tend to flap more compared to turkey vultures, which have a more v-shaped profile and soar for longer durations without flapping.
Black vultures are present throughout Kentucky year round. They are, however a migratory species so their numbers tend to change over the year. With fall and winter seeing the greatest increase in numbers.
Vultures play a pivotal role in the ecosystem by feeding upon dead animal carcasses; thus clearing the environment of waste. Black vultures are usually carrion feeders. Black vultures will, however kill small to medium sized animals on occasion, in contrast to turkey vultures which strictly feed on deceased animals.
Black vultures do not have the superior sense of smell that turkey vulture possess and therefore they tend to rely on turkey vultures to find the carrion. Once found they will use their more aggressive behavior to chase the turkey vultures off the food source.
Vultures in general will feed on the softest tissues first because of the ease of feeding; the eyes, tongues, and hind quarters, are typically missing from carrion that they have been feeding on.
Damages from vultures can range from loss of livestock to damage of property. Black vultures may attempt to feed on newborn calves, lambs, goats and piglets. Occasionally black vultures will attempt to feed on adult livestock that are in a weakened physical state from a difficult birth or sickness.
Large groups of vultures can cause several issues if they roost on or near buildings. For reasons not well understood, vultures sometimes will pick at materials that have a rubbery texture. Damage may include but is not limited to tearing pool covers, roof shingles, rubber roof liners, vent seals, and window caulking.
Vultures may also start using nearby vehicles or boats as roost sites, and they may create issues by removing rubber seals, damaging windshield wipers, scratching paint, or removing vinyl seat covers from boats and farm equipment.
Deterring vultures is not a simple thing to do but it can be done. Vultures are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Under this act, the birds, their nest, and their egg's cannot be killed or destroyed without a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit. For more information on obtaining a permit contact the Pulaski County Extension Office or the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is perfectly legal, however, to harass vultures with effigies to scare them away. An effigy is a dead or fake dead animal that is hung in an area to deter that specific species from congregating. When displayed properly effigies are extremely effective at deterring black vultures from using an area.
Fake effigies can be purchased online or made from material one can find at a local store. The University of Kentucky has a great publication on how to make your own black vulture effigies. One of the best methods to deter vultures is to hang the effigy by its feet from a rope and suspend it in the air making it visible from a distance. Make sure the effigy is highly visible to vultures in the area you would like to protect this will help increase your success rate.
Cultural practices and planning can have a significant effect on the livestock losses or damage from black vultures. Moving livestock to an area that allows you to keep a close eye on them during and after the birthing process. This could be a closer pasture to your house or a barn that allows you to respond quickly if there is a problem. With cattle having a set calving season allows you to watch those cattle for a period of time instead of having to worry year round.
Properly disposing of deceased livestock is another way to not attract vultures or other types of wildlife to certain areas. Decreasing the amount of time the carcass can be found by vultures and other predators will lower the risk of them frequenting the area.
This can be achieved in many different ways, one of the easiest is to use the dead livestock removal service offered here in Pulaski Country through the county road department.
Documenting is a very important part of the process in dealing with vulture or any wildlife problems. Pictures, videos, or a 3rd party witness can be very beneficial in getting help with a problem dealing with wildlife.
With many programs available to help with vulture problems, having the correct documentation is important, as it may be difficult to determine whether black vultures have killed livestock they are feeding on or if they are simply feeding on animals that were already dead. Take photos as quickly as possible and remove the animal from the area to ensure that other vultures or wildlife species do not continue to feed in the area.
You can Contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife resources for instructions on how and where to send the photos to confirm the cause of death. You will also need to report any livestock losses to the local USDA office to see if your loss would qualify for the Livestock Indemnity Program. If you have a severe problem you can try to obtain a permit to help control the problem. Currently the Kentucky Farm Bureau has a limited number of sub-permits for Kentucky farmers allowing them to take a certain number of black vultures.
For more information contact the Pulaski County Extension office at 606-679-6361. Information was gathered form UK publication "FOR 129 Black Vulture Damage Control" by Matthew Springer.