Vultures, both black vultures and turkey vultures, provide an essential ecological service, cleaning up carcasses and preventing the spread of diseases. In recent years, black vultures have expanded their range northwards, taking advantage of warmer weather and man-made roosting and nesting structures. With the increase in numbers and range, livestock producers have noticed increased predation on newborn livestock due to black vultures.
“Turkey vultures find their food through an incredible sense of smell. They can locate a dead animal several miles away and follow that smell right to the carcass” says Cory Wilson, Wildlife Biologist for the Cooperative Texas Wildlife Services (TWSP) Program. “Because they rely on that sense of smell, their diet is exclusively animals that have already died. Black vultures lack the same sense of smell and have learned to key in on livestock birthing areas. They will clean up afterbirth and stillborn livestock, but increasingly we’re seeing vultures mobbing an animal during the birth process and taking the newborn while it’s still being born.”
Black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and livestock producers were limited in what they could do. Non-injurious harassment is legal, but very time consuming. In addition, vultures have adapted to harassment to the point that they simply return after being chased away.
Depredation permits, which allow for lethal removal of a few vultures to reinforce the nonlethal harassment, are available from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), but the process of applying on-line, and waiting for a permit, was more than many landowners are prepared for. When you have a vulture predation problem, it’s generally too late to apply for a permit.
Working with the TWSP and the FWS, the Texas Animal Damage Control Association has applied for, and recently been granted, a permit to remove up to 750 black vultures to protect newborn livestock from predation. Livestock producers can be issued a sub-permit, which would allow them to remove up to 5 black vultures each, to reinforce harassment to protect their livestock.
“We think the permit process will give the producer more tool to manage their problems” says Wilson. “By removing some vultures, others will avoid the area. The vultures removed can even be strung up as effigies, making the area less hospitable to other vultures. This is a legal and accountable way for a producer to help themselves when black vultures threaten their livestock.”
Producers interested in participating should contact their local TWSP trapper or call the program District Offices and speak to one of the TWSP biologists. The biologist will obtain the information to get the sub-permit started. The Association will receive a Wildlife Services Form 37 from the biologist and process a sub-permit in 1 to 2 business days. There is no charge to become a sub-permittee but reporting vulture take is required.
Because the Association permit is limited to 750 vultures, and the FWS limited each producer to no more than 5 vultures, only 150 livestock producers can be helped under the current FWS permit. There is a chance that the permitted numbers can be increased, but for now TWSP biologists are trying to prioritize livestock producers who have current problems, or those with a history of losses and an upcoming livestock birth period. “We want to help as many people as possible” said Wilson.
Livestock producers with chronic problems and an extended lambing/kidding/calving season can always apply for their own permit. That process also starts with a call to TWSP Biologists, because a WS Form 37 is also required to go through the FWS permit process.
For more information on black vulture depredation management, call Texas Wildlife Services at one of the District Offices listed below:
- Canyon 806-651-2880
- College Station 979-599-5070
- Corpus Christi 361-299-1176
- Ft. Stockton 432-360-1122
- Ft. Worth 817-978-3146
- Kerrville 830-896-6535
- San Angelo 325-655-6101
- Uvalde 830-278-4464