Over the past decades, Kentucky farmers have reported numerous issues with the black vulture population attacking newborn livestock. There have been reports of these predatory birds pecking full-grown ewes, lambs and even young calves to death. These birds start by pecking out the eyes and tongue, and then they continue to peck until every shred of the calves’ flesh is gone.
Unfortunately, farmers can’t do anything to these birds, as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects them. Any bird protected under this treaty requires a special permit to kill, which is not an easy thing to get. The law doesn’t only protect the actual birds, but also their habitats, nests, and eggs, from being destroyed.
Farmers have reported losses of $300,000 to $500,000 from livestock killed by vultures. If the livestock crisis wasn’t enough, there have also been reports of these vultures attacking small pets.
Generally, vultures are excellent contributors to their ecosystem. They are responsible for helping dispose of animal carcasses that happen naturally in the wild or from human accidents, such as roadkill. However, their numbers have increased significantly in the past two decades, which has made them desperate for food. Therefore, and even though their preferred source of food comes from animal carcasses, they have started attacking live animals.
Black vultures and turkey vultures look different, but they’re both still forms of vultures. Over the past few years, Kentucky scientists and residents have noticed that these two vulture species have begun working together. It’s a fascinating development, considering that the turkey vulture is the less aggressive of the two.
Another considerable difference between these two types of vultures is the way they hunt for their prey. Turkey vultures hunt by smelling animals, while black ones hunt by seeing their prey. The noir vultures spot the turkey vultures circling the prey they smelled and then join them in the hunt. It’s an excellent match.
According to Wayne Long, vultures will take advantage of any climate change. With the warmer weather lasting more, the venues can now stick around the areas that they enjoy longer. Some farmers have reported vultures killing their newborn calves, and they are even capable of killing a full-grown ewe. Generally, they attack ewes that are in the process of giving birth, because they are more vulnerable to attack.
Lawson, the man who runs Foxhollow Farms, has reported the vulture attacks they’ve had over the years. At the very start of this season, he walked out into his field to find a newly born calf being pecked to death by six vultures. He’d seen it before, but it doesn’t make it any less challenging to lose livestock without being able to do anything about it.
Since 2013, the members of Foxhollow Farms have made it a point to get the permit to kill vultures. These permits cost $100, and there is still a limit to the number of vultures that carriers can kill in a season. While licenses have helped minimize the amount of livestock killed, it continues to be an issue. The penalty for killing vultures without the permit can be either a $15,000 fine or up to 6 months in jail.
So far, vultures haven’t killed any full-grown Foxhollow Farms cattle, but every calf killed is terrible for business. Foxhollow Farms decided to invest in the permits back in 2013 after vulture attacks made them lose several ewes, calves, and lambs.
A calf is considered a newborn during the first weeks of its life, not just directly after birth. There was a case of a two-week-old killed by vultures. By this time, the animal was already healthy and easily able to run. However, it was still no match for the vultures that started pecking at its eyes and then ripped it apart.
Vultures’ Contribution to the Ecosystem
We have discussed the negative impact of the vulture population on Kentucky farmers, but that does not diminish the help that these birds provide to the overall ecosystem. Without vultures, there would be a lot of decaying animal carcasses left on roadsides, mountains, plains, forests, and practically everywhere. While their disappearance wouldn’t seem like a big deal at first, it would become noticeable over time.
Vultures help speed up the process of getting rid of the rotten animals. The permits issued by the government also provide permission to disrupt the vulture nests, which can help to solve the issue without killing any vultures. Lawson at Foxhollow Farms has been trying to follow the vultures back to their nests for a couple of years to disrupt them without having to kill them. However, the main issue is that vultures tend to circle and hunt until just shortly before dusk, which makes it difficult to follow them back to their nests.
The only thing to do if your farm is in jeopardy is to keep binoculars in hand and make sure that you pay attention to your livestock. Keep your permits updated, because they require reissuing each year, and follow the vultures back to their roosts. That way, you’ll be able to disrupt them to force them to move further away.
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