Purdue asks ranchers to help study black vulture losses


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Black vultures (seen here) and other vulture species play important ecosystem services by cleaning up animal carcasses, but some black vultures have become predators and cause problems for pastoralists. (Photo courtesy of Marian Wahl)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Vultures play an important role in the ecosystem by cleaning the carcasses of animals from the landscape. However, despite being primarily scavengers, some black vultures cause problems for cattle ranchers in southern Indiana, harassing and even preying on young calves and other farm animals.

Historically common in the southern states, black vultures have spread to Indiana in recent decades due to global warming and changes in human land use. Black vultures can be found throughout Indiana, but they are more common in southern counties.

As the spring calving season progresses, quantitative ecologist Purdue Patrick zollner, professor of wildlife sciences; medecine studient Marian choice; and partners of the USDA Wildlife Services program hopes to enlist the help of cattle ranchers in researching the habits and methods of black vultures that could be used to prevent them from harming livestock.

In other parts of the world, when vultures experienced local extinction, the number of animals like coyotes, rats and wild dogs increased and diseases like rabies, brucellosis and anthrax became problematic for human health, Zollner said.

“These vultures are nature’s garbage cans. They clean up the carcasses of dead animals, and that’s an important role, ”said Zollner, professor at the Department of Forests and Natural Resources. “If they come across a stillborn calf, they will eat it. But some of these birds prey on young animals or even calves when they are giving birth.

Zollner and his colleagues are looking for producers to donate calves they say were killed by black vultures so that researchers can perform autopsies on the animals for free. Zollner and his colleagues hope to uncover signs that can determine whether a calf was killed by vultures or simply recovered.

“We don’t know enough about the biology of these vultures to understand why some birds become predators or the differences between how they feed and how they kill an animal,” Zollner said. “If we can get enough of these predated calves to study them, we will be able to know what evidence is needed to help producers file claims with the USDA Farm Service Agency Compensation Program to receive compensation for their losses.” .

Scientists are also looking for breeders to complete an online survey, designed by Wahl and Zollner, in collaboration with a doctoral student Brooke McWherter and Zhao Ma, Purdue Professor in the Social Sciences of Natural Resources. Respondents will be asked about general concerns about livestock losses as well as their experiences with black vultures. Knowing more about where black vultures cause damage and how much damage they cause will help determine better ways to manage these birds.

For growers who deal with black vultures, Lee humberg, Indiana state director for the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, suggests first evaluating your operation to make sure it doesn’t attract birds. He said promptly removing stillborn carcasses (including stillborns) or dead fauna can eliminate food that might attract birds, and chopping down dead trees removes a preferred perch option for vultures. .

Effigies of vultures, including taxidermy birds or those made of man-made materials, hung by the feet near livestock can scare other birds. Pyrotechnics, herdsmen and other sources of harassment can also frighten some.

“Some of these tactics are helpful,” Humberg said. “But not everything works for everyone. Much depends on the size of the operation and how sensitive the birds are to your tactics and tools.

Black vultures are protected under the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, so they cannot be killed without a permit. Humberg said anyone with questions about mitigation efforts or who wants a lethal force license should call the USDA Wildlife Service at 866-487-3297.

Zollner said that it is also helpful for producers to know the difference between black vultures and turkey vultures, as the latter only recover and do not cause any harm to producers. Black vultures have black heads. In contrast, adult turkey vultures have a red head, while immature turkey vultures have dark gray heads. Black vultures also have white feathers on the outer end of their wings, while red-headed vultures have a browner color and their entire wings are two-tone, with the front half being dark and the rear half being silvery in color.

To donate a potentially attacked calf, contact Wahl at 317-647-5294. To learn more about the team’s work, visit their website. To participate in the team’s investigation of black vultures, go to here.

Writer: Brian Wallheimer; 765-532-0233; [email protected]

Sources: Patrick Zollner; 765-496-9495; [email protected]

Lee Humberg; [email protected]

Agricultural communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Head of Department, [email protected]

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