Black Vulture Depredation of Livestock
We have two types of vultures in Kentucky: the turkey vulture and the black vulture. Turkey vultures have always been quite common in Kentucky; whereas the black vulture was rare in our state historically. After range expansion and population increase over the past 50 years, presently, black vultures are widespread and common in Kentucky.
Turkey vultures do not take live prey- they only feed on animals that are already deceased. However, on occasion, black vultures will feed on live prey- usually newborn or sick and dying animals. Predation on livestock by black vultures is not common in Kentucky, but has been seemingly increasing in recent years. In general, vultures are attracted to livestock birthing sites to feed on the afterbirth and stillborns. Thus, having vultures at a birthing site is not always cause for concern. However, sometimes healthy newborn calves are taken. Livestock producers who are concerned about vultures gathering at birthing sites should use loud noises to scare vultures away. Black and turkey vultures are protected by federal law and cannot be killed without a federal permit. If black vulture attacks on livestock are documented, landowners can apply for a permit to reduce the black vulture population on their farms (fee required). The permit is issued by the USFWS, but in order to start the application process, landowners should contact the USDA Wildlife Services at 502-254-1592. Please take photos of the damage whenever possible to accompany the application.
As of June 1, 2015, there are also sub-permits available through the Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) for no cost. These permits are available to producers that are experiencing problems with vulture depredation of livestock. Take is limited to 5 vultures for these permits and landowners having severe problems with large flocks of vultures are encouraged to obtain their own federal permit via the process mentioned above. The process on how to obtain a sub-permit from the KFB, is detailed here and questions about the KFB sub-permit process can be directed to Joe Cain at (502) 495-7738 or (502) 303-3663.
Both black and turkey vultures gather in large numbers in the fall, winter and early spring to sleep at night in areas called “communal roosts.” In Kentucky, this tends to occur from October-March. Sometimes these roosts can be located in inconvenient areas- near houses or industrial facilities and build up of waste under roost trees can become a problem.
Although it is illegal to kill a vulture without a permit, it is legal to harass vultures away from roosting areas and encourage them to roost elsewhere. The goal in disturbing a roost is to make the birds feel unsafe in that location and hopefully move to an area where they will not be chased back. In order to encourage the birds to roost elsewhere, a disturbance regime will need to be implemented for several nights in a row at sunset (when the birds are arriving at the roost). Loud noises or other disturbances should be used to prevent the birds from becoming comfortable at the site from approximately ½ hour prior to sunset, until ½ hour after sunset. If the roost is small (less than 50 birds) disturbances like spraying with the hose, using loud noises, etc. might be enough to make the birds uncomfortable enough to choose a new roost.
However, if the roost is large, it will likely require pyrotechnics to alleviate the problem. Pyrotechnics will not harm the birds or other wildlife, but are meant to be a scare tactic. A crew of people may be needed for larger roosts and disturbance efforts should be repeated for at least 7-14 consecutive nights to encourage the large number of birds to view this area as unsuitable for roosting. This will be a noisy effort, so local authorities should be consulted prior to ensure compliance with local laws. Community support to put up with the temporary disturbance is also often necessary.
Disturbance efforts may need to be implemented again the next fall to avoid reestablishment of the roost. The birds will naturally disperse in mid-March when they return to their breeding grounds to nest. For questions on vulture roost management, please call the KY Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources at 1-800-858-1549 or the USDA Wildlife Services at 502-254-1592.