Managing Black Vulture Damage in Illinois
Photos courtesy of USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services.
Black vultures are migratory birds protected federally by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as state laws and regulations. They are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the U.S. Department of the Interior). The birds, their nests and eggs cannot be destroyed without a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation Permit and an Illinois Nuisance Animal Removal Permit.
Two vulture species are native to Illinois: black vultures and turkey vultures. These scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem, feeding mostly on carrion (dead animals). The birds’ physical features are useful in their role as scavengers: bald heads, sharp beaks, sharp nails and highly acidic gastrointestinal tracts. These unique adaptations make them adept in their natural role but also can create conflict. Their specialized sharp nails and acidic gastrointestinal tract contributes to a number of human conflicts with vultures. As a defense, the birds regurgitate an odorous and corrosive vomit. Uric acid from their excrement kills bacteria on the bird’s legs but can also be corrosive. Sharp nails and beaks can also be highly destructive to manmade surfaces. This combination of features can create problems for landowners when vultures roost on top of metal barns, cars or trucks.
Black vulture populations have increased in abundance and range over the past 30 years and may continue to do so into the future. Vultures often form large roosts and loafing areas, numbering from a few dozen to hundreds of birds. Vultures have an adaptable nature and exhibit complex behaviors. These traits, combined with their increasing populations and affinity to inhabit areas close to humans, contribute to numerous conflicts between vultures and people in agricultural settings, as well as suburban and urban areas. USDA Wildlife Services and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) work closely with farmers, homeowners, business owners and local governments to help resolve such conflicts.
Conflicts with People
Large flocks (also called a committee) of both turkey vultures and black vultures may roost or occupy woodlots near human habitats. Vultures provide important ecological benefits but they can be destructive. Turkey vultures rarely cause conflicts with humans, however, black vultures may damage homes and commercial buildings by tearing window caulking, roof shingles, vent seals, rubber roof liners and pool covers. They can damage vehicles by scratching paint, removing rubber seals and wipers, and ripping vinyl seat covers from boats and tractors.
Black vultures may also affect the quality of life for people. The birds’ odorous feces and vomit can accumulate, especially on rooftops, communication towers and electrical transmission structures. On electrical transmission towers, arcing and power outages may occur, at great expense to utility companies and the customers they serve. While black vultures normally feed on carrion, they may on occasion attack calves, lambs, piglets and other newborn livestock. This predatory behavior often results in serious injury or death to newborn livestock because vultures target the eyes and soft tissues. In addition, livestock producers occasionally see attacks that also result in severe injury to birthing mothers. In some cases, these injured livestock must be euthanized due to the extent of their injuries.
Black vulture management is complicated and site-specific, so consulting with a wildlife professional is vital to successfully resolving damage. USDA Wildlife Services staff can help in many ways. USDA Wildlife Services wildlife biologists may provide information on habitat management or strategies and tools for dispersing vultures from areas of conflict.
For example, sound-and-light-devices (i.e., propane cannons, air dancers, pyrotechnics or lasers) may be used to disperse vultures, especially at the roost location as birds return to settle for the night. A correctly positioned vulture effigy, or mount of a dead vulture, will often help disperse a vulture roost. Obvious attractants, such as open garbage or livestock carcasses, can be removed or composted, although in some situations the source of a site’s attraction can be unclear. In rare situations, the lethal removal of a few vultures after obtaining the proper federal and IDNR permits may be needed to resolve damage effectively. USDA Wildlife Services can assist producers with initiating the permit application process when necessary.
In 2022 the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) applied for and was issued a Federal Depredation Permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under authority of the permit, IFB is allowed to issue free of charge sub-permits to livestock producers for the limited take of black vultures in order to reinforce the effectiveness of non-lethal vulture predation management techniques. For permit information contact Illinois Farm Bureau Associate Director of Commodity and Livestock Tasha Bunting at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 557-2993.
Livestock producers and others experiencing conflicts with vultures can call USDA Wildlife Services for assistance in designing a plan to mitigate the conflicts (866) 4-USDA-WS (866-487-3297). Federal sub-permits from the IFB, authorizing the limited lethal removal of black vultures to protect livestock and issued by the IFB, are valid through March 31 of the following year and must be renewed annually. IDNR also requires a permit to lethally remove black vultures. The Class B permit is free and the IFB will assist livestock producers in obtaining the permit.
For more information about managing vulture damage or other Wildlife Services operations, call 1-866-4USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297) or visit www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife-damage.
Tasha Bunting serves as the Associate Director of Commodity and Livestock for Illinois Farm Bureau. Her role includes advocating and assisting Illinois livestock producers through program development.
Ben Williams is a Waterfowl Biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He earned his B.S. from the University of Minnesota, Crookston, and his M.S. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Bradley Wilson is a Wildlife Biologist and Illinois Feral Swine Coordinator for the United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services Program. He earned both his B.S. and M.S. from Western Illinois University.