Missouri livestock producers are dealing with a relatively new threat to the state’s livestock industry — black-headed vultures.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture has worked with our partners at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and University of Missouri Extension to create an awareness campaign on these predatory birds.
When dealing with black vultures, here are five management areas you should understand:
1. Visual identification. Black vultures are increasing in population, and their aggressive nature can cause problems for livestock producers.
Identified by their large, black bodies and a dark grey or black head, they are a cousin to the turkey vulture, the red-headed vulture you are more used to seeing. In flight, black vultures hold their wings in a more horizontal position compared to turkey vultures, which carry more of a V-shape as they fly.
Unlike turkey vultures, black vultures are known to gang up and prey on small or weak animals. Calves, piglets, lambs and newborn goats are targets, as are cows that are calving or are ill. Black vultures commonly roost in groups comprised of both types of vultures.
2. Depredation to livestock. Black vultures are known to take livestock when given the opportunity, although confirming whether black vultures are the culprit can be difficult to determine. We do know that they can inflict gruesome damage, such as plucking eyes and tongues of newborn or sick animals. Producers have reported black vultures stalking calves, then working as a group to make a kill.
3. Deterrent options. Several Missouri livestock producers have reported success using effigies (replicas) of dead black vultures. A vulture effigy should be hung upside down by the legs with wings splayed. However, it is important to note that birds will become accustomed to the continued use of an effigy, lessening the effectiveness.
Disturbing roosting locations, including removal of dead trees, can also be effective. MU Extension suggests that roost disturbances should take place near the sunset hour over several consecutive days to increase the probability of the birds leaving the area permanently. Even if you are successful, the black vultures might return weeks or months later, requiring you to repeat the process.
Livestock producers are encouraged to keep birthing animals close to the barn, or where there is a good amount of human activity. Livestock guard dogs can also be successful to dissuade black vultures, as well as other potential predators.
4. Lethal control. Black vultures are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means the birds, their nests or eggs cannot be killed or destroyed without a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit. Producers who have experienced livestock destruction can obtain a permit from the Missouri Farm Bureau for taking up to five black vultures annually.
5. Loss coverage. When livestock loss is proven from black vultures, producers can apply for reimbursement for the cost of the animal and the necropsy. Apply to the Livestock Indemnity Program through your local USDA Farm Service Agency for the cost of the animal.
Payment rates vary by species and age of the animal. The Missouri Department of Agriculture has funds to assist with reimbursement of necropsy costs. The necropsy must be performed by a licensed veterinarian or an APHIS official within 24 hours of finding the deceased animal.
APHIS Wildlife Services officials in Missouri are providing on-farm assistance and technical advice to producers. Call USDA at 573-449-3033, Ext. 10, to talk with an official about what you are seeing on your farm. University of Missouri Extension offices across the state also are a resource for information.
I appreciate these partners and their efforts to help the industry. Eliminating nuisance black vultures might be impossible, but we can work together to help protect our animals and lessen the damage.
Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.