Why One Virginia Town Wants to Kill a Vulture and Hang its Corpse
Seen on the wing, the turkey vulture is an awe-inspiring and graceful bird.
Designed for soaring flight, with a nearly six-foot wing span and a light body weight, turkey vultures are able to buoyantly ride rising columns of warm air to heights of almost 5,000 feet and to travel up to 40 miles per hour with almost no flapping of the wings.
Seen up close, however, this creature is not so beautiful: an unfeathered and red-skinned head, long bare legs and weak talons, with the hind toe small and dysfunctional. Hence, they seek out carrion, since they don’t have the talons to kill their own prey.
In December, the town of Vinton, Va., decided that they had had enough of the migrating raptors.
As The Roanoke Times reported:
They materialized almost overnight, dozens of them, swooping in wraithlike and ready to roost.
Vinton Town Manager Chris Lawrence had seen it before — beady-eyed buzzards loitering in his neighborhoods, an annual migratory menace. It wouldn’t be so bad if their acidic droppings didn’t remove paint from cars, or if they abstained from pecking at roofs. But they do, close to 100 of them.
Even though Lawrence admitted that the town was partially responsible for the vultures choosing this neighborhood, as town officials hadn’t covered buried roadkill well enough, Vinton police officers fired booming guns into the air to drive the birds away, and most left.
Vinton Plans to Kill One Vulture and Hang the Remains
Lawrence is planning more drastic measures for 2014.
Turkey vultures are classified as migratory birds, which means that they are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. However, the town could apply for a federal permit to kill one vulture. The remains would be hung near the vultures’ roosting site, and the vultures would disperse because they don’t like to be around their own dead.
That’s right: just like that infamous spot at London Bridge in England, where for over 300 years in medieval times alleged traitors’ heads were put on spikes as a warning to anyone thinking of challenging the Royal Crown, a dead vulture would be hung to discourage other vultures from even thinking of coming close to Vinton.
The common belief about vultures is that they are loud and dirty and tear up trees.
It’s true that they produce some nasty side-effects, like a strong ammonia odor emanating from the roost site, and the aesthetically unappealing white-wash effect from fecal droppings on lawn furniture, the home, walkways, vehicles and the yard. And yes, they do peck at roofs.
On the other hand, considering what they eat, these are some of the cleanest animals around. Having few feathers on their heads means they can wash them easily, and turkey vultures often bathe in water. They constantly preen, and they help purify the landscape, descending upon and making quick work of roadkill and other hapless animals that have fallen prey to an untimely end.
They are also not known to transfer any diseases to humans.
The idea of hanging the remains of a dead vulture as a deterrent has been proposed before.
“Quite some time ago, we shot a vulture that we couldn’t retrieve in a roost, and we noticed quite clearly that the other vultures left the roost,” said Thomas Seamans, USDA/Wildlife Services/National Wildlife Research Center biologist.
But he doesn’t believe that’s the way to go.
Instead, he suggests using moving laser beams to disperse vultures from large roosts or exploring the idea of habitat modification, to make an area less attractive to the birds.
“Our goal is not to reduce the numbers of the bird,” said Seamans. “Vultures play an important role in the ecology of the area. However, in the wrong spot, they become a nuisance. If we can move vultures from the neighborhood roosts around people’s houses to a vacant wood lot not near houses, that’s fine. We’ve still got the birds, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and they’re not bothering anybody.”
Take Action Now!
Instead of seeking to have dominion over nature, we humans must learn to co-exist with nature if we are to survive. There is no other way.
If you agree, please sign our petition to Chris Lawrence, the town manager of Vinton, asking him to re-think his egregious plan to murder one vulture and use its remains to deter others.
Photo credits: Thinkstock