Black vultures prey on farmers’ minds, herds

RICHMOND—The number of federally-protected black vultures in Virginia has grown over the past 30 years, and the birds have become a nuisance for many farmers, preying on live calves, lambs, piglets and other vulnerable animals.

“I’ve lost six cows and 11 calves to black vultures” in recent years, said Ellis Walton, a Middlesex County farmer and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors. “It’s a sad feeling when you walk out and you see a buzzard pick the eye out of an animal.”

Septic shock often kills the animals, and Walton said the vultures will attack calves as they are being born.

Non-farming Virginians also have also suffered property damage. Large groups of black vultures roost or occupy woodlots near residential areas. They have damaged homes and commercial buildings by tearing window caulking, roof shingles, vent seals, rubber roof liners and pool covers. Damage to parked vehicles has included scratched paint, torn rubber seals and wiper blades, and ripped seat covers on boats and tractors.

“There are a lot of different approaches for dealing with nuisance birds. In particular, harassment is a good one, and there are different tools for harassing those birds away and protecting your property. And that can be done legally,” said Dr. Scott Barras, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Damage Management program.

But because black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state laws and regulations, property owners and farmers must contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get a permit to remove them permanently. Wildlife Damage Management offers technical assistance first and can, if necessary, help a citizen navigate the process of getting a depredation permit, Barras said.

“A homeowner or a landowner can call and talk to our wildlife services program, and we’ll work with them to try to understand the situation, the type of damage and, if the situation is appropriate, then we would make a recommendation for a migratory bird depredation permit,” he said. Technical assistance can include information on habitat management, husbandry and tools for dispersing vultures. Biologists also can help document vulture damage.

For more information about managing black vulture damage, call the USDA Wildlife Services Program at 804-739-7739 or visit

Contact Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024.

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