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‘A Very Aggressive, Nasty Bird’; Missouri Fights Deadly Black Vultures

Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.

Missouri is taking a hard-line approach to tackle a troubling increase in the state’s black vulture population.

It’s part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot program allowing some livestock owners to kill the birds, which have been moving north in recent years and causing problems.

”The birds have been basically killing young calves as they are born,” said Kelly Smith, of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The vultures also prey on other animals like lambs and sheep when they are having babies.

“They’re just a very aggressive, nasty bird,” Smith said.

In the past, farmers could only resort to nonlethal methods to get rid of them, like loud noises and bright lights. That’s because the vultures fall under the protection of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Now, the Missouri Farm Bureau will oversee the federal program in the state to allow farmers to kill some of the black vultures, despite their protection as migratory birds. The bureau will issue sub-permits to farmers based on the number of vultures in the area, how many livestock animals have been killed and how the county ranks in livestock production.

Black vultures are moving further north in the past few years from their traditional home in the south.
Black vultures are moving further north in the past few years from their traditional home in the south.

The problem in Missouri is mostly on the state border with Arkansas. But people have spotted them as far north as Hannibal and Palmyra, and state officials want to take action before it gets worse.

“Black vulture numbers are on the rise, causing significant depredation issues to Missouri cattle ranchers,” Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley said in a statement.

“This partnership is critical to solving these issues,” she added.

The Conservation Department says many people appreciated vultures in the early 1900s. They would effectively work as cleaners in slaughterhouses.

That changed when people thought they were spreading disease, leading to shooting, poisoning and trapping in the 1970s.

Conservationists say the numbers are rebounding because of climate and habitat change and more available food like roadkill. And that aggressive behavior is not just toward animals.

Smith remembers seeing a group of vultures, called a wake, attack a car.

“On the hood and on the roof,” he recalled, "and eating the plastic and rubber moldings around the windows.”

The pilot program to control the black vulture population also includes Kentucky and Tennessee.

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