Black Vultures in Arkansas
Black vulture populations have been growing in the southeastern United States since the 1960s. Vultures play a critical role in the environment as scavengers of carrion. Unlike their less-aggressive cousin the turkey vulture, black vultures are known to gang up and prey on living calves, piglets, lambs, and newborn goats. They sometimes attack vulnerable cows when ill or while giving birth.
Black vultures can be an urban problem. In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, community members have mixed opinions about the hundreds of black vultures roosting from October to April in a wooded area. Property damage and droppings are an issue for some homeowners, while others consider them “peace eagles” and a tourist attraction.
Evidence of Black Vulture Depredation
Black vultures leave characteristic evidence of their depredation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports black vultures can inflict gruesome damage to livestock. They pluck eyes and eat tongues of newborns, down, or sick livestock; disembowel young livestock; kill and feed on domestic fowl; and leave scars on those animals which survive.
Although black vultures prey on livestock, the actual number of attacks is difficult to determine. It is believed many such incidents go unreported. Sometimes determining whether black vultures are the culprit can be difficult to prove. Stillborns and incapacitated animals are easy prey for a number of predators and scavengers. Black vultures use visual cues for finding food sources. They drive away predators or scavengers by sheer numbers and an aggressive nature, obscuring what actually caused the animal's demise.
Regardless, the presence of black vultures on farms is an issue for livestock producers. Black vultures are known to take livestock when given the opportunity. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - Wildlife Services is charged with responding to conflicts with migratory species including black vultures.
Legally black vultures are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Their migratory range extends for thousands of miles from North America to the lower reaches of South America, thus crossing national boundaries. It is illegal to harm, harass, or take (kill) black vultures without a permit.
Livestock producers with black vulture problems should call USDA APHIS Wildlife Services - Arkansas office (501-835-2318) to discuss your problem and schedule a site visit from a local biologist. The biologist will provide recommendations and issue a permit application for harassment and/or removal. USDA Wildlife Services then sends the permit application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region Office in Atlanta, Georgia for approval. From start to finish, this process can take up to a month, so USDA Wildlife Services should be contacted without delay. The $100 permit is issued for a calendar year from January - December. If lethal removal is deemed necessary, the number of birds permitted for removal depends on several factors including the estimated local population of black vultures.
Protecting larger livestock operations is more difficult where cattle range over large expanses. Around smaller livestock operations, problems with black vultures may be alleviated with constant vigilance and persistent harassment. Loud noises are often used for disturbing and moving black vultures from roosts. Such tactics should be employed before black vultures become established at their roosting site.
Black vultures that have been allowed to occupy a roost for an extended time are more difficult to drive away. For established roosts, USDA Wildlife Services recommends using laser pointers or pyrotechnics. Lasers can be a hazard for low flying airplanes, therefore proper authorities should be consulted. Types of pyrotechnics are a starter pistol (like those used in races), shell crackers fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, or propane cannons which periodically emit a loud boom. In urban and some rural locations, nearby residents would need to tolerate loud noises produced by such devices. Pyrotechnics may disturb livestock especially during the birthing season. State, county, and local laws should be consulted before using lasers or pyrotechnics. A federal permit is NOT required for using lasers or pyrotechnics to scare black vultures and other migratory birds in Arkansas.
The National Wildlife Research Center recommends frightening black vultures from roosts using effigies (replicas) of dead black vultures. Multiple vulture effigies should be very visible and hung upside-down by the legs with wings splayed. The Center found that effigies which simply resembled a full-grown vulture -- 25 to 26 inches in length and feathered -- were effective. In some states, USDA Wildlife Services issues permits for shooting and displaying nuisance birds to frighten other black vultures. USDA Wildlife Services - Arkansas is skeptical about the continued effectiveness of effigies as research using similar tactics suggests birds and other wildlife often become habituated to repeated use of frightening devices.
Livestock Management Practices
Livestock producers can discourage black vultures by penning expectant cows, goats, and sheep near human activity. This enables closer scrutiny of an expectant animal and a quicker response to problem situations, thereby improving a young animal's survivability. Some producers have success with livestock guard dogs which can frighten, chase, or attack coyotes, domestic dogs, feral hogs, black vultures, and other potential predators.
Livestock Indemnity Program
When proof of black vulture depredation is obtainable, producers can apply for reimbursement through the Livestock Indemnity Program under the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). There must be strong evidence of vulture depredation including authentication by a date-stamped photo or video. Also required is documentation of livestock ownership through purchase or other means. A local FSA committee determines whether there is enough evidence to warrant reimbursement, which can be up to 75% of the average fair market value of livestock lost. For additional information, contact Arkansas FSA at 501-301-3000 or your local USDA Service Center.
- USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services
The mission of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services is to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. Wildlife Services conducts program delivery, research, and other activities through its Regional and State Offices, the National Wildlife Research Center and its Field Stations, as well as through its National Programs.
- Livestock Indemnity Program - Farm Service Agency
This website provides program information for receiving up to 75% reimbursement for animal losses from black vultures and other hazards.
Websites and Publications
- Black Vultures - All About Birds
(Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Website with identification and life history information.
- Black Vulture Damage Control
(University of Kentucky)
Fact sheet containing information about the biology, habits, signs of depredation, and control options for Kentucky. WARNING - graphic images of depredated animals are presented.
- Managing Vulture Damage
(USDA APHIS Wildlife Services)
If you are having problems with vulture damage, our biologists can help by providing information and advice or working onsite to reduce damage. We also conduct research to develop new methods for resolving these conflicts.
- Use of Vulture Carcasses and Effigies to Reduce Vulture Damage to Property and Agriculture
(USDA APHIS Wildlife Services)
This scientific paper describes several case studies of vulture damage and the effectiveness of using vulture carcasses and effigies to frighten them from roosts.