The American black vulture (Coragyps atratus) are easy to spot with their dark, sooty plumage, bald black heads and short tails. Also known as the black crow, the large raptor measures 22 to 29 inches long with a wingspan of around five feet.
Vultures typically feast on the carcasses of dead animals, but reports suggest they may have started “eating live cows” in the Midwest, reports Sarah Bowman for the Indianapolis Star.
“Black vultures, now they’re a very, very aggressive bird,” said John Hardin, a cattle breeder from southern Indiana. Indianapolis Star. “They basically wait for the cows and calves to die or try to kill them.”
Unlike the Turkey Vulture, black vultures are more daring and can prey on living animals like calves, lambs, piglets, and other small creatures. Harding says vultures often peck a calf’s nose, navel, face and mouth, reports Newser Kate Seamons.
Black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibits the capture, killing, sale, trade or transport of migratory bird species without permission from the Department of Interior US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Harming vultures without a license can result in jail time or hefty fines. In August, the Indiana Farm Bureau introduced a program that will allow farmers to obtain a license to kill birds of prey in an effort to help farmers protect their livestock, Journalist reports.
The Indiana Farm Bureau will pay the $ 100 fee it costs to obtain a permit and undergo the lengthy process it takes to obtain federal authorization to kill damage-causing birds, reports Jim Robbins for the New York Times. Black vulture culling programs began in Kentucky and Tennessee, but have since spread to other states including Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, reports Bob McNally for Outdoor living.
There are no limits on the number of permits the Indiana Farm Bureau can issue, but the organization can only kill 500 vultures per year. Farmers using the permit cannot kill more than five vultures, according to the Indianapolis Star. After receiving the permit, cattle producers must declare the number of vultures they harvest and dispose of them properly.
Former Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John W. Fitzpatrick, however, suspects vultures do not target healthy calves, and he is against allowing permits to kill protected species, the New York Times reports. Fitzpatrick further noted that the idea that black vultures are predators needs further study.
“They are often seen around struggling calves that are stillborn or dying, and they jump on them quickly,” Fitzpatrick told the New York Times. “The idea that they are predators of cattle is wrong.”
The phenomenon of black vultures moving north is relatively recent. Scientists suspect vultures have spread to Indiana in recent decades due to climate change and changes in land use, according to a statement from Purdue University. Black vultures are historically common in the southern states.
Scientists at Purdue University and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services are working with cattle ranchers to better understand black vulture predation habits. In turn, this information could be used to find ways to prevent vultures from harming livestock. Farmers can help by donating calves they suspect were killed by black vultures to the lab or by completing an online survey on concerns about livestock losses and their experiences with black vultures, according to a statement.
“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,” said Patrick Zollner, quantitative ecologist at Purdue, in a statement. “If we can get enough of these predated calves to study, we can find out what evidence is needed to help producers file claims with the USDA Farm Service Agency’s compensation program to receive compensation for their losses.”