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Cattlemen keep watch on new vulture

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — There’s a new buzzard in the skies of Arkansas. It’s the black vulture, a critter that has the feathers of some Arkansans ruffled and has some cattlemen concerned about the safety of their calves.

Surveys indicate the bird’s numbers and range have increased since 1990, helped, in part, by landfills which provide them with food.

The typical vulture patrolling Arkansas skies is the turkey vulture, an unattractive, dark-colored bird with a featherless red head and a 6-foot wingspan. Its cousin, the black vulture, has a black head, white wing patches, and is noticeably smaller.

Becky McPeake, wildlife specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, said black vultures are more aggressive and more likely to cause property damage than turkey vultures. Black vultures are known to kill and injure newborn lambs, piglets and calves. They’re also a danger to pregnant cows and sheep and sick livestock.

“I’ve seen a flock of black vultures near a lake in Hot Springs hanging around a garbage container,” McPeake said. “I’ve gotten calls about them damaging boats around boat docks from Bull Shoals to Hot Springs. They seem to like to be near water. They tear up boat seats and awnings and leave their feces.”

Wildlife experts say black vultures roost in dead trees, cellular phone towers and power lines in large packs. They damage roof shingles, lawn chairs, wiper blades on cars and lawn decorations.

McPeake said Mike Hoy with Wildlife Services, a part of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, reported they had 26 complaints last year of black vultures injuring livestock and causing property damage in the state. Most of the reports were from western and northern Arkansas. Nationwide, there were 949 complaints of vulture property-livestock incidents from 1997 to 2001.

Vultures are necessary, according to McPeake. “They’re just doing what comes naturally. Think of all the dead animals they remove. They’re the waste managers of the bird world.”

If you have a problem, you should know that vultures are protected by federal law. Although you’re not allowed to kill, injure or trap a vulture, McPeake said the law allows for a landowner to obtain a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This permit allows for killing under certain conditions.

“The good news is that black vultures are responsive to the use of pyrotechnics and noisemakers such as propane canons. If a property owner is aggressive and starts a program to scare off the vultures early, they can move them off quickly.”

She said the USDA/APHIS is testing lasers, effigies and perch repellents to scare off vultures.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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