Black vulture kills increasing in Ohio

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SALEM, Ohio — Fairfield County cattleman Dick Kilbarger saw it with his own eyes: Eight or 10 black vultures spread in a semi-circle across his pasture, backing a cow and her newborn calf into a corner.

He sat a ways back on his ATV, just watching. But when those birds got too close, got too comfortable with tiring that cow and trying to cut her calf away from her protection, he swooped in to protect the herd.

He’d already seen what the vultures intended: to peck the eyes out of the calf, to disorient it, then go to work at killing it.

“They’re just damn vicious, mean, ugly birds,” he says of the black vultures that have made their presence known in the county.

“Hard cotton-pickin’ things to kill, too.”

“It’s disheartening, and another obstacle in the production cycle,” said Kilbarger, who manages a herd of about 100 commercial brood cows near Bremen, Ohio.

“You hate to see them taking a baby calf and killing it when there’s plenty of dead deer laying around they could be going after.”

Gaining ground

Judging by the number of calls he’s received from producers in the past three years, Ohio State University Extension wildlife specialist Stan Gehrt agrees that vulture numbers are increasing in Ohio.

Compared with West Virginia, where there’s a sizable established colony of black vultures that cause “pretty dramatic” damage, Ohio is still relatively unscathed, according to Gehrt.

But those West Virginia birds are moving northward, he said, giving Ohio livestock producers a whole new predator to deal with.

Not the same

Black vultures are not the same as a turkey vulture, sometimes called a turkey buzzard, Gehrt said.

Black vultures are slightly smaller than turkey vultures and have a black head, whereas the more common turkey vulture has a reddish head, he said.

What sets the two species apart most is their behavior, Gehrt said.

Turkey vultures are mild-mannered and timid, the expert explained, and tend to scavenge on dead animals and roadkill. Black vultures, on the other hand, can be aggressive and will kill living animals, such as lambs and calves on farms, and groundhogs and other wild animals.

“These things go after an animal in groups. There can be five or six of them, all the way up to dozens,” Gehrt said, adding other states have reported colonies of hundreds of vultures.

“We’re not at a critical level yet here in Ohio, and we hope it doesn’t get to that point,” Gehrt said. “But they are expanding their range, and we may end up with large colonies like other states.”

Black vultures are not the same as a turkey vulture. Black vultures are slightly smaller than turkey vultures and have a black head; the more common turkey vulture has a reddish head.

Compensation

Since July 1, 2007, only five Ohio counties — Adams, Brown and Highland in the southwestern part of the state, and Fairfield and Knox in east-central Ohio — have seen vulture-related payouts from the state’s indemnification program, according to department of agriculture spokesman Bill Schwaderer.

That program compensates producers fair market value on animals proven to have been killed by black vultures or coyotes.

Producers in those counties have already collected more than $3,900 this year from the state for their livestock losses tied to vultures, the highest figure since the program kicked off in 2005.

Last year, Kilbarger collected $100 for one calf killed by the vultures. He said the indemnity program and the legwork necessary to participate aren’t convenient, but that getting a little money to compensate for the loss does help out.

“But it doesn’t make everything better,” he said.

What to do

Though the vultures aren’t endangered, they are migratory birds and are protected under federal law, Gehrt said. That means even if you see a group of vultures circling your pasture, you’re nearly helpless.

“You can’t just take a gun and shoot them without a special permit,” he said.

Those migratory bird depredation permits are available from the Division of Wildlife but are issued only after the agency determines there’s an excessive problem on your farm that’s causing a significant economic burden, Gehrt said.

Kilbarger has one of the permits, and used it to kill one black vulture last year, and one more this year. He appreciates that the permit allows him to shoot at the birds, even if he doesn’t kill one.

“I’ve found they’re kind of timid after you’ve shot at them once or twice,” he said.

Control

For those who can’t secure a permit, there are other methods to keeping vultures at bay, Gehrt said.

Any livestock owner can take preventive measures, such as keeping young lambs and calves penned inside and out of harm’s way.

In areas where the vulture problem is more chronic, producers can try electronic noise harassment. Gehrt said a popular method used now on turkey vultures is audible firecracker shells.

Another method often used is an effigy, which is a stuffed vulture that’s hung from a pole or limb to simulate a dead bird and discourage others from coming into the area. Kilbarger uses the birds he’s shot this way, he said.

“Black vultures are very smart birds, and that’s one of the problems with them,” Gehrt said. “They eventually figure it out and then [control methods] don’t work anymore.”

Emerging

Gehrt warns that although sightings of black vultures often cause panic or dread in rural areas, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Not all black vultures will become a threat to stock. It’s not that anytime you see one there’s an immediate threat. But if you do see them, keep an eye on them,” he warned.


The indemnity process

To report a predator loss by black vultures to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for reimbursement under the indemnity program:

  1. Notify your local dog warden by telephone within 72 hours after the loss or injury has been discovered. The dog warden must promptly visit your farm to determine whether the kill was by a predator or not.

    If the dog warden determines that the kill was not by a predator, then no further steps need to be taken as there is no claim under the indemnity program.

  2. Document, by photograph, the injuries sustained by the animal. This should be done immediately after contacting the dog warden. Do not wait for the determination as to whether the kill was by a predator or not. It is advised to leave the animal where it lays for investigative purposes.
  3. Obtain an indemnification form from the dog warden. This form will need to be filled out and sent to ODA within 30 days of discovery of the animal by the owner.

    Photos taken of the injuries and any other pertinent facts must accompany this document. If the animal injured or killed is a registered animal, then registration papers should also accompany the indemnification form.

  4. If the dog warden determines that the kill was by a predator, he must promptly contact the county’s wildlife officer.
  5. The wildlife officer must confirm, disaffirm, or state that he is uncertain about the determination of the dog warden on the claim.

    If the wildlife officer disaffirms the claim of the dog warden, the owner has no claim under the ODA indemnity program.

    If the wildlife officer affirms or states that he is uncertain about the determination of the dog warden, the wildlife officer must notify the ODA, in writing, of the determination.

  6. The ODA will hear claims that are approved by the dog warden and supported by the wildlife officer. The ODA may decide to grant full compensation, partial compensation, or no compensation.
  7. If the owner feels that the ODA’s determination of the fair market value, he may appeal the determination.

(Sources: Jeff Pelc, Wildlife Biologist USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services and Tim Fine, Ohio State University Extension Program Assistant, Miami County)

For more information on the indemnity process:

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

10 Comments

  1. Robert Poindexter says:

    As a resident of Reading, PA, I am writing to you because of recent developments.

    Most in my neighborhood have noticed that all of the sudden, over 100 black vultures gather at a local park every day. It’s a pretty frightening sight since these birds gather in a public with people all over the place.

    I even notice that they are starting to gather on the roofs of houses in the neighborhood, including my own.

    I also have pictures of about 20 of them gathered on my neighbor’s roof.

    If a staff photographer from a local newspaper ever saw the gathering of the birds, I’m quite sure it would make national news.

    Robert Poindexter
    (610) 781-0101

    • Just commented on the black vultures that I’ve now seen daily in Olmsted Township, OH. I’ve lived here over 25 yrs & never saw these birds previously. I read your comment from 2009 & wondered if you’re seeing more birds now or have you found a way to rid them from the area. I definately feel your concern. They’re creepy & aggressive as my comment states.

  2. This is the first year I’ve noticed the vultures. My neighbor told me I had turkey vultures living in my old horse barn that’s now vacant. Now, after watching them come out from the woods & swoop down to get a better look at my Cocker Spaniel puppies, I knew they weren’t turkey vultures. They are black vultures & I can no longer let my puppies outside to play. My friend & I were right there playing with 6 puppies when one of them swooped down very close. We immediately took them all back inside while they continued to circle just above the house. I still had 3 older puppies playing in the front yard that they were also interested in. Sometimes they swoop down near us when I don’t even have puppies outside with me. That’s how I’ve been able to get a good look at them & a positive identification. I just knew these birds were NOT harmless. They’re aggressive & I felt like I was in an old Hitchcock movie with these large birds coming out from the woods. I have now seen 7 of them together.

  3. okiestorm1 says:

    This is scary stuff,,I’am from Oklahoma and never had to deal with this kind of thing before. We had alot of coyotes to manage and a mountain lion once in awhile but never killer birds.Thank you for putting this article out.

  4. Antha Cody says:

    My son and I went out metal detecting by an old abandoned barn today and were startled by a large black buzzard. It flew out of the barn into a tree above. We looked into the barn and noticed 2 eggs on the floor. I managed to get pics of the eggs and the bird but it was watching closely. I thought it was in a strange place with all the rat waste around. We have a lot of coyotes and foxes here. Seemed like the rat pellets would have attracted another predator. This was my first time seeing a black buzzard. Wish I could attach the pics to share…

  5. I no longer have groundhogs, who were abundant here, since the coyotes & black vultures have taken their local environment. The black vultures are roosting with the turkey vultures in my old horse barn. I’ve now seen one of each flying out the barn door when I approach with my riding mower. The shiney black vulture was huge & just seemed to push it’s way through the heavy branches & leaves like something prehistoric. Very impressive, even though the turkey vulture is supposed to be slightly larger in size, the two I’ve seen fly out of the barn were the opposite in size.

  6. Mary Young says:

    I live in Hot Springs Arkansas, I have had 2 black buzzards hanging around my house since last March. Just noticed that I also have now a black buzzard chick in my dog house which is fenced around. The chick is big as a rooster, fluffy brown it stays in the dog house and the mother sits on top of the house. I wasn’t aware they were dangerous until I read your article. I have 2 small dogs, and the buzzards have left them alone so far…

  7. D Brandt says:

    We just encounter our first black headed vulture!!! It follows the turkey vultures. They don’t have a good sense of smell and use the turkey vultures to find their meals. We have goats and sheep. So far the guard dogs that we raise have fan them off!!!

  8. Rosemary Ruffing says:

    My husband and I just got back from visiting in Sheffield Lake Ohio. When driving down 301, I have been noticing Vultures for over the last 12 years, prior to that, I’ve only read about them, now I’m seeing them and I find it interesting, just don’t want to get to close to them!

  9. Bill says:

    On the way to church a few weeks back, I noticed a ho e with wall to wall black headed vultures covering the roof, and a few of them were even on the front porch. I could not believe my eyes, especially because this ho e is still occupied. A week later, there were fewer on the roof, and this week there were none. Sound like this variety of vulture is rapidly growing, and some method of control should be enacted asap. In all my years I have never witnessed anything like this.

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